I haven’t blogged lately, but you can rest assured that I’ve been keeping a close watch of our North Side Nine this summer. Since we are at the All-Star Break, I figured it’s about time I send a new blog out into the interwebs.
Not just any hangover, but a hangover from a party 108 years in the making, a party so big, they said it was the largest human gathering in United States history. You need a lot more than an aspirin and cup of coffee to get back to normal after a blowout celebration of that magnitude. The baseball season is half over and it appears the Cubs are still in hangover mode. It’s certainly understandable, with a very short off-season, 108 days from World Series Game 7 until Pitchers and Catchers reported this past February.
Then with all the flag raising, ring ceremonies, and hoopla at the beginning of the Cubs season, the first half of this baseball season seemed to fly by. I can only imagine what it’s been like for Cubs players. The Cubs record is 43-45, they are 5.5 games behind the Brewers in the Central Division at the break. A scene in the film The Hangover pops into my head. It’s the scene where Phil is on the phone telling Tracy (who is about to marry Doug) what has happened. Only in my head, I’m hearing Joe Maddon as Phil and Theo Epstein is Tracy.
Joe Maddon: Theo, it’s Joe.
Theo Epstein: Joe, where the hell are you guys? I’m freaking out.
Joe Maddon: Yeah, listen, uh… we f%&*ed up.
Theo Epstein: What are you talking about?
Joe Maddon: The World Series party. The whole night…the last seven months. It’s…Things got out of control and, uh… we lost Dex and Grandpa Rossy.
Theo Epstein: What?
Joe Maddon: We can’t find Dex and Rossy.
Theo Epstein: What are you saying, Joe? We’re getting to the playoffs, right?
Joe Maddon: Yeah…that’s not gonna happen.
That was just a parody. A whole lot more has changed than just letting Dexter Fowler go in free agency and the retirement of David Ross. This 2017 team is different in composition, mind set, and certainly in the results. The starting pitching has come down to earth after last season’s incredible performance, injuries have cropped up, and the hitting has been more inconsistent this season. This isn’t to say this team can’t shake off the hangover and kick some butt in the second half, because they are certainly capable. And they have been given a 4th out if you will, in that no team is running away with the division like the Cubs did last season.
Three months into the 2017 season, I’m reading stuff on the internet, where it seems fans, baseball writers, and bloggers, are really venting their frustrations on the Cubs first half performance. And after the 14-3 shellacking yesterday entering the All-Star break, I can certainly understand those feelings. However, I’m not all that upset, even though the Cubs aren’t playing well. People ask me what’s wrong with the Cubs? I can rattle off a long list, but usually don’t bother. I do always finish by saying, baseball is a long season, let’s talk again in mid-late August or early September.
Ben Zobrist says the Cubs need to forget about last season. “We have to get to the point where last year is literally gone,” Zobrist said Sunday. “It was tough doing that the first half. But if we stay with ‘today,’ that’s where we’ll have our best games.”
Another aspect of this season the Cubs are dealing with, is being the Champs. Every team knows the Cubs are the team to beat and those teams are geared up, wanting to beat the best. I joke about this hangover thing, but in baseball, you can’t just turn your game on and off at will. There needs to be, as Dustin Hoffman put it in the sublime film Little Big Man, a certain “snake eyed concentration.” A focus and intensity that is hard to achieve if you aren’t fully engaged and working as a team. Zobrist was right, last year’s accolades need to be forgotten…at least for now.
There is one thing from last year that the Cubs do need to remember and I haven’t heard as much about it this season. And that is – grind. Grinding on every pitch, every at-bat, every play in the field, it’s what the Cubs did last year. They also had fun last year, which is needed to keep the grind from becoming an all encompassing unbearable weight. If the Cubs can get healthy, keep grinding, have some fun, and possibly pick up a starting pitcher in a trade, just maybe they will get to where they need to be by October.
The first half of the baseball regular season is done, it wasn’t pretty for the Cubs. However, an opportunity is still there, as the most important stretch of the season remains. We’ll see what this team and it’s young core are made of in the coming months. Will they prove to be a more than a one year wonder? It won’t be easy, since 1996 only four teams under .500 at the All-Star break have made it to the postseason.
Robert Benchley once said, “the only cure for a hangover is death.” And perhaps the only cure for this Cubs hangover is getting to the place Ben Zobrist talks about, “where last year is literally gone.” Which brings to mind the ending of the movie The Hangover and perhaps what the Cubs need to do in regards to forgetting last season.
Doug Billings: We look at these pictures together, OK? One time. And then we delete the evidence.
Stu Price: I say we delete it right now.
Phil Wenneck: Are you nuts? I want to find out how I went to the hospital. Is that in there?
Alan Garner: Yeah it’s in there!
Doug Billings: Guys, one time. Deal?
Phil Wenneck: Deal!
Stu Price: Deal.
Alan Garner: OK.
[the four of them look into the camera]
Stu Price: Oh dear Lord!
Alan Garner: That’s classic!