The red Chevy Lumina I drove in high school and for a couple years in college was the definition of mediocre. Of course, being a teenager and living in a rural area with lots of flat roads that were not often busy, I drove it faster than I should have and didn’t always exercise the world’s greatest judgment (sorry, mom). Heck, I even raced folks on occasion.
One such incident took place on San Pierre Road, when I lined up against Rob Pritz and his Ford Escort. Someone yelled go and I punched the gas, causing my engine to rev angrily as the tachometer hit numbers just as red as the taillights now receding in the distance. Baller status. Then my check engine light came on, which is always a great deal of fun. It eventually went off again, but my drag-racin’ career was effectively over before it had ever really gotten started in earnest.
It’s no secret that the Cubs have been a special kind of mediocre as they’ve struggled to establish any sense of consistency to this point in the season. Injuries and poor performance have had a heavy hand in that, but there’s a measure of it that has been self-imposed as well. Joe Maddon has gone on record more than once as saying that he’s consciously trying to give his regulars more rest following a couple long seasons and with hope that another is in store.
However, that will change as the Cubs come out of an All-Star break that will afford them much more rest than they got last year.
“I think the inconsistency is born of the fact that we have to get the band back together again,” Maddon told Matt Spiegel and Danny Parkins when he joined their eponymous show on 670 The Score Wednesday. “You saw yesterday’s lineup, I really liked it a lot. And the one malady that continues is that we need to be more consistent driving in runs with runners in scoring position.
“These are the kind of things I think, obviously, that can be cleaned up and gotten better during the course of the season, and that’s what I anticipate. I’m actually encouraged by all this…the fact that we’re still really close with the Brewers right now and everybody starting to get healthy and well and we’re gonna get a little bit of a break in a couple days.”
Maybe it sounds crazy to you that Maddon says he’s encouraged by what the Cubs are doing right now, but it makes sense when you consider how dinged up they’ve been. Context matters.
There has been a lot of talk about a World Series hangover or, as I like to refer to it, a refractory period, though most of the roster is too young for either of those to be issues. Maddon did admit, though, that last year’s success might still have some lingering effects.
“Coming off of the World Series, there’s a lot going on,” the skipper explained. “A lot of it’s an emotional component too, having gone through that. Especially with the Cubs, 108 years, all that kind of stuff. So coming into this year I was very much aware of that, and when I keep talking about rest I’ve been saying that intentionally, specifically in this first half and not wanting to push the guys too hard.
“I thought the worst thing to do would be to push them right now and then eventually you’re definitely…the tank’s gonna be on empty by the middle of August. I’d rather do it just the opposite this year. And that’s not to push too hard, too soon. So let’s get everybody on the terra firma, keep moving them forward, keeping them rested, keeping them thinking right.”
That’s all well and good, but how do we know when it’s time to stomp on the gas and what will it look like when that happens?
“More consistent lineups, you know, guys not getting as much time off, trying to get them out there more often,” Maddon said. “Bullpen guys, they may have to pitch two or three days in a row sometimes and not being so light on them. So when it gets to that point in the year that you have to make a push, they should be rested enough to do that.”
Does my seemingly random car racing anecdote make sense now? If this team were a car, it most definitely would not be a Chevy Lumina, not even a red coupe version with the door handles set way up high on the window frame. So perhaps I’m wrong to be reminded of what happened when I tried to punch it in a vehicle that had a glass jaw. Still, I can’t help but worry about the idea that when the Cubs do go to step on the gas, all they’ll get is a fart noise.
Then again, at least that would be funny. Unless you take the Cubs way too seriously, in which case it’ll just be enraging. The end result is the same either way, which is that we see the same flailing attempts to tread water that just leave everyone tired and wet.
Or maybe Maddon’s playing this right and the team does heal up and regroup in time to make the same kind of push we saw after last year’s break. They can’t come close to matching 103 wins — hell, even 90 is a longshot at this point — but they shouldn’t need to in order to take the Central. And a team that’s playing hot late in the season can look a lot better than what its record indicates, so there’s always a chance to make a playoff push.
Despite the results, the Cubs do possess a ton of talent and the experience of winning it all. If the former can finally start showing itself more consistently, the latter can help them to push through as the season winds down. I just hope we don’t see the check engine light come on.