Cubs Finding Ways to Smile Despite Getting Teeth Kicked In

Isn’t it amazing how the same event can elicit wildly different responses, even from within a group that presumably has the same primary interest in said event? Take Carl Edwards Jr.’s failure to cover home in Monday’s loss: Some were upset about that singular play, some wanted him traded or demoted to minor league teams whose seasons have ended because they believe he’s terrible, some just said it didn’t matter because the run would have scored anyway.

I bring that up not to shame any responses — although wanting him traded or sent down is total meatball foolishness — but because it’s a recent example of the various ways in which fandom can manifest itself. Emotions often get the best of all of us and it’s not my place to tell anyone how to fan. I will say, however, that there’s an important distinction between wanting to throw your remote through the TV and wanting the athletes on your favorite team to feel the same way.

While reactions to the fun pictures the Cubs took during their flight to DC were mostly positive, there were also a few that decried their smiles. Some didn’t feel as though such lighthearted shenanigans should have been enjoyed by a team that had just seen its division lead shrink to one game after another ugly loss to their division rivals.

But if you think the Cubs don’t feel the Brewers’ footsteps or that they aren’t plenty mad about their play just because they’re grinning for a picture, you may need to reevaluate things. Even on a chartered flight without the restrictions of commercial airlines, there’s no room for players to be carrying on emotional baggage. Being upset isn’t going to help anyone and it’s not at all healthy given the Cubs’ schedule and situation.

There’s a reason this team has been so successful over the last three seasons and it’s not because they’ve spent that time eating coal and crapping diamonds. Joe Maddon affords 30 minutes after each game to either celebrate or commiserate before it’s time to move on to the next one. And I’m guessing it took far more than half an hour for them to get from the clubhouse to the team flight.

And I do want to circle back on the overall concept of travel for just a moment because it’s an important part of where the Cubs are at from a physical and emotional standpoint. I don’t care that they’ve got far more amenities than the average traveler, flying all over the place and making several quick turnarounds without a real break can be exhausting.

Remember, playing the game in Washington, DC Thursday means the Cubs won’t have a scheduled day off until next Thursday, following a series with the Diamondbacks. In Phoenix. Rather than some sort of flimsy excuse, citing obvious travel woes is just a matter of laying out facts. It’s no different from lamenting injuries. That doesn’t mean the Cubs get a pass if they play poorly, though excessive travel could be a limiting factor when it comes to how sharp they are.

This team looks like it’s running on the beach right now, that everyone is a step slow or not quite there mentally. Just watching them conjures thoughts of being hopped up on cold medicine and feeling as though my mind is floating about two feet to the left all day.

“We’re in the same place we’ve always been,” Kyle Hendricks told ESPN’s Jesse Rogers following Wednesday’s loss. “Maybe a little tired, to be honest, but we’re fine. We know where we are. We know where we want to get to.”

True though that may be from a metaphorical standpoint, they aren’t in the same place in the standings. The Brewers are so close the Cubs can smell Craig Counsell’s cheddar-laced breath and Ryan Braun’s Axe body spray. And they definitely got a whiff of Josh Hader, who struck out all nine Cubs he faced in their most recent series. Oof, those line scores don’t look good for the embattled reliever or his opponents.

“They’re definitely coming for us,” Hendricks admitted. “We can feel it.”

It’s looked for at least the last week or so as if the Cubs are a distance runner slowing noticeably as they approach the finish line. That’s why I wrote that Willson Contreras appears to have “bonked,” though he’s hardly the only one on the roster who appears gassed. Even Daniel Murphy, who’s only played 75 after missing the start of the season due to knee surgery, looks beaten down.

The man who was supposed to solidify the offense began his Cubs tenure doing just that. But after opening on a six-game hitting streak during which he went 11-for-27 (.407), including two homers and five multi-hit games, Murphy has gone 9-for-50 (.180) with one walk and 12 strikeouts. He went hitless in 12 plate appearances against the Brewers, flailing helplessly and producing worse contact than Matthew McConaughey and Jodie Foster.

“I got my teeth kicked in,” Murphy told Rogers.

Maybe he can swing by his old dentist to pick up some new dentures prior to Thursday’s game, because the Cubs are going to need a lot more bite to finish this thing out. Hey, maybe that’s why the guys who still had all their teeth were showing them off in the pictures. Those weren’t just smiles, they were overt signs of aggression.

Okay, not really, but it’s true that the Cubs can be both happy and upset at the same time, maintaining balanced emotions rather than just getting pissed off and coming apart at the seams. Only six of their 16 remaining games after Thursday will be played away from Wrigley and only three are outside Chicago. They’ve got a chance to close strong while enjoying the comforts of home, which should help.

Now they need to get this game in DC the hell over with and get back on the plane, ideally with smiles that everyone agrees are befitting the situation.

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Evan Altman

Evan Altman is the EIC and co-founder of Cubs Insider and has proclaimed himself Central Indiana's foremost Cubs authority. He is a husband, father, homebrewer, and award-winning blogger with entirely too much pop culture knowledge. Evan's greatest accomplishments include scoring 400 points in Magic Johnson's Fast Break, naming all 10 members of the Wu-Tang Clan in under 3.5 seconds, and winning the Meese Literary Award at Hanover College.

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