I jumped out early with my Dennis Green quote by saying the Cubs are who we thought they were after just game, a take that yielded several “not so fast” responses when an Opening Day win was followed by three losses. Also lost was my point that it was the style with which the Cubs were playing more than the outcomes they’d gotten. Since dropping those three in a row, however, the results of Jed Hoyer’s winter-long chemistry experiment have been quite impressive.
The Cubs are 10-3 with four consecutive series victories to move to 11-6 overall, their .288 team batting average is two points behind the Rays for best in baseball, and the 2.66 ERA of their starting pitchers ranks third. Nico Hoerner is tied for the MLB lead with nine steals and Patrick Wisdom is tied atop the home run leaderboard with eight. I suppose you could say they’ve got the power and the speed to be the best in the National League.
Okay, third-best, but whatever.
Behind all the stats is something that can’t really be measured by anything other than the number of smiles or celebratory gestures from another onslaught of singles. Well, there might actually be data to support the immaculate vibes emanating from the clubhouse, but you’re going to have to scrounge for a discarded check at a swanky restaurant.
As Ken Rosenthal laid out for The Athletic, part of what’s got the Cubs playing so well is simple camaraderie.
“Someone said something like, ‘Man, we’ve already had three or four team dinners. That’s three or four more than we had last year.’” Taillon said. “You bring in veterans, guys who have been in winning organizations, that’s the stuff that happens.”
There’s a trust factor as well because players getting to know one another on a deeper, more personal level allows them to be both honest and open with praise and criticism alike. These guys seem to be a little more accepting of their roles than what we’ve seen in the recent past, perhaps stretching back to the 2017 season. Hoyer no doubt had that in mind when he set about retooling the roster with veteran leaders who understand the value of relationships that go beyond the diamond.
“With team chemistry, there was always a saying that good teams hang out together,” Swanson said during his introductory press conference. “It’s just kind of setting that precedent now and wanting to chat and genuinely get to know your teammates and the people you’re going to be strapping it up with every day. That means a lot to me. It’s something that can help this organization thrive going forward.”
Without name-checking any individuals, there was a clear sense that achieving that ultimate success left a few players and even the organization as a whole somewhat directionless. I don’t believe it was a lack of desire so much as an intense feeling of relief and accomplishment that no one really understood how to recover from or return to.
Though I still don’t believe the path Hoyer has followed since was the only one that could have gotten the Cubs back to competitiveness, there’s most definitely merit in wiping the philosophical chalkboard clean and starting over. We’ve been talking about this whole concept since at least December, though it’s admittedly working out better in the early going than even the most optimistic among us imagined at the time.
Even with full understanding that the Cubs can’t continue playing .769 baseball the rest of the season, it’s easy enough to believe their combination of skill and makeup will prevent them from face-planting for double-digit skids. This is a good team filled with dudes you really want to root for playing a fun, selfless brand of baseball. If they keep it up, they’ll be able to treat a lot of folks to a big crow dinner.