What a Difference 4 Days Made in Cubs Fortunes, Huh?
It seems like only yesterday I had a bunch of folks on a certain social media site up in arms because I wrote in a recurring weekly feature that the Cubs were falling behind the Brewers. You see, the teams were tied in the standings at the time and any failure to read past the title to see how the postseason odds were progressing led to knee jerks. And a few just plain jerks as well. That post actually came out Friday, May 25, at which point the Cubs were coming off of no-hitting the Dodgers.
What a difference four days makes, huh?
The Cubs now trail the Brewers by four games after dropping four straight and their playoff odds have dipped below 20% as Milwaukee shoots to just under 80% as of post time. For as hopeful as everyone seemed even well into June that the Cubs would be buyers at the deadline, that sentiment quickly soured Monday night into widespread certainty that Jed Hoyer would be lining up his wares on the lawn at Gallagher Way when the team returns home.
Even before that emotional curdling took place seemingly in real-time during a monumental collapse of an 8th inning, there was a sense of foreboding as fans imagined a patchwork lineup flailing away against Freddy Peralta. It was as though they’d spotted an expiry that was long since past and went in for a smell check to lend credence to the date on the package.
That’s at least a little ironic since Cubs fans have been spoiled by an unprecedented run of success that began in 2015, though the expectation of getting a contender in exchange for premium ticket prices and a team-owned broadcast network is more than reasonable. It’s not just making good on a promise Theo Epstein made all those years ago, it’s something the organization has either explicitly or tacitly endorsed all the while with hundreds of millions of dollars being pumped into the infrastructure of the not-actually-a-neighborhood of Wrigleyville.
Now, however, Hoyer could be looking at a sell-by date of July 31 that will see him forced to place clearance stickers on players whose legacy includes hoisting the World Series trophy. You think it feels bad to see Yu Darvish shoving on one coast while Kyle Schwarber vaporizes every strike thrown his way on the other? Wait’ll Kris Bryant and Javier Báez are holding down spots for a legit contender.
Look, a lot could still happen over the next few weeks to change that direction. But when it was pretty clear from the outset of the winter that the plan was to move money and possibly punt on the 2021 season, it’s going to be difficult for this team to remain in buying mode following what has truly been a June swoon. Just getting a couple players back from the IL isn’t going to be enough at this point, so it’ll take a reversal of fortunes on several levels.
Thing is, Cubs fans are already being inured to a potential white flag lineup by games like the one we saw Monday night. Not that David Ross was in any way setting the stage for something down the road, mind you. It’s just that having to go with the backup to the backup to the backup to the backup catcher and filling in other spots with players who are up due to multiple other injuries, the expectations are automatically reduced in turn.
So when Rafael Ortega let Brewers reliever Devin Williams off the hook by swinging at a borderline 2-0 pitch even though the bases were loaded and Williams had just walked two men while routinely missing badly with his fastball, it felt like things could get out of hand. Not even the most pessimistic among you could have anticipated the game going off the rails as badly as it did, of course, but a loss seemed imminent after the first half of the 8th.
Again, though, we’re not exactly sifting through the charred ashes of the trainwreck of an entire season to search for clues as to what went wrong. The autopsy of a tragic campaign might yet have to be ordered, but for now the Cubs still have a little hope. Guttering though that flame may be, tended only by the most devout Pollyannas out there, it hasn’t gone out yet.
The schedule gets significantly easier in July and the Brewers may actually have to play some tougher teams, so there’s that. At the same time, Hoyer is going to have to start making some tough calls if it becomes apparent that he can’t add what it will take to win for the cost it’ll take to acquire those pieces. And if that’s the case, he’ll also be unable to extract anywhere near full value for the players he’ll end up moving.
But let’s wait and see what happens over the next two games in Milwaukee, as the pendulum could yet swing back to more positive thoughts. Or so we can dream.