The Cubs have yet to play a game and already they’re in a hole.
And you’re kind of an a-hole if you choose to freak out should they happen to find themselves a game and half back after their opening tilt with the Angels. The dead horse was long ago sent off to the Elmer’s factory, which means I’m just using my stick to stir a tub of glue. Nevertheless, I’m going to state for the eleventeenth time that the Cubs are still going to be forced to undergo the drudgery of a 162-game season. I know, I know, it’s unfair.
Like you, I’m a little upset that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred never saw fit to dispense with the regular season and just bow to every prediction model and Vegas sports book, but c’est la vie. Here’s the thing though: no baseball team ever went undefeated and no one ever won or lost the season in April. Okay, well maybe the ’88 Orioles — 0-21 start — did. The Cubs, however, are not that team.
Despite what my body is telling me after cleaning up the downed tree in my back yard — don’t worry, the Zombie Dust helped my back — I’m not a very old man. As such, I don’t have firsthand knowledge of Cubs teams prior to the 80’s. Even so, I am hard-pressed to come up with a group that had as much ability and potential as this one. Those vaunted 60’s-era units were strong to quite strong, but were largely made up of guys who were peaking or whose prime was firmly in the rearview. Same with those celebrated NL Central champs of the 21st century.
Conversely, the argument can be made that six of the players who figure to be a part of the Opening Day lineup — Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, and Addison Russell — have yet to peak. Might as well throw Tommy La Stella and Javier Baez in there too while we’re trying to make a point. And that point is that we’re looking through a veritable picture window when it comes to the Cubs’ contention.
You know what happens when you’ve got a big, clear window though? Birds fly into it. It gets dirty and dusty and handprints are left on it. The window’s still big, you can still see through it, but it’s just not as pretty as what it seemed when you first installed it. That’s why you break out the Windex and the paper towels and given it a once-over every now and again. Maybe you even use a squeegee on the outside.
Do you see where I’m going with this (potentially overwrought) analogy? Not everything about the Cubs’ 2016 season — or those that follow, for that matter — is going to be pretty. Redbirds will fly at them, Pirates will leave fingerprints, Mets might even pee on the glass. Well, except Matt Harvey. There will even be times when some downright awful teams find a way to steal some games here and there. Remember that sweep at the hands of the Phillies, the one that include the no-no from Cole Hamels?
That streak-breaking no-hitter marked the low point for the Cubs in 2015. I distinctly remember thinking that they were probably destined to limp to the finish, that it had been a nice run but that they had finally shown us who they really were. That last part was true, just not how I had pictured it. Rather than let the sweep define them, the Cubs became one of the best teams in baseball.
Maybe this year’s team never faces that adversity. Maybe the Cubs cruise to a World Series title and the next few months play out like a coronation march (h/t to Dabynsky). However, chances are good that they struggle at times, that some players experience significant regression or that another team comes out of nowhere and is more competitive than anyone expected. And maybe — deep cleansing breaths — the Cubs don’t win it all. Maybe they don’t even make the World Series. Or the playoffs.
As unlikely as the latter of those scenarios may be, all are possibilities. Anything is possible over the course of such a long season. But what’s also possible over such a long season is for water to find its level. Given the talent they’ve amassed, the Cubs are very well equipped to deal with all the uncertainty.
What I’m trying to say, what I’ve been dragging out for far too long, is that there’s no need to freak out if this team struggles out of the gate. With six early games on the road against decent opponents, chances are good that not everything will be sunshine and rainbows. But the Cubs are well prepared to overcome the rigors of a given series or road trip or month or season. And they’re also constructed to do the same next year. And the year after.
So go ahead, get all anxious the moment things don’t go according to script. Just know that it’s not worth your effort and it’ll probably just draw the ire of the rest of us. I get it though, you want to see the Cubs live up to the expectations we’ve set forth for them. But clenching up at each sign of fallibility is no way to enjoy the baseball season. If you close your eyes on the coaster you’ll never know how fun the ride really is.
Please know that I’m talking to myself as much as any of you. It’s an affirmation I may need to continue many more times in the coming weeks and months, though I’m sincerely hoping that necessity fades by, say, July. So what say you try not harsh my mellow in the meantime.
These boys are good, damn good, and I fully intend to drink deeply from the well of awesomeness they have tapped. I suggest you do the same.