Part of the Cubs’ noted investment in an organization-wide mental skills program was the installation of an industrial-size metaphorical trash can into which they could throw all their troubles. Poor pitching performance? Into the garbage. Epic beatdown at the hands of an inferior opponent? Pitch it. Custom 400-pound Wrigley anniversary cake and Ron Santo memorabilia? Okay, those went in the real dumpster, but you get the point.
What the Cubs may not have realized, however, is that even the mistakes you’ve thrown away can linger unseen, eventually glomming together to form a figmental fatberg that plugs the pipes and forces an extensive plumbing job. Not even Sloan, official water efficiency partner of the Chicago Cubs, can flush whatever the hell is bogging this team down.
Final score aside, Monday’s lackluster effort in Pittsburgh was like watching a relief pitcher take an at-bat and just wave lackadaisically so he can get back on the mound posthaste. Well, except that Brad Brach actually authored one of the Cubs’ few bright spots when he recorded the first hit and RBI of his career. But I don’t feel like changing the analogy now, so you’re stuck with it.
The Cubs talked a big game after being drummed unceremoniously from the postseason following a stretch run that saw them limp to the finish line and drag themselves across. They would regain their sense of urgency! [crowd cheers] They would be more intentional each and every day! [more cheers] They would value production over talent! [crowd rises to its feet]
And they would do it all on a limited budget! [applause diminishes, confused mumbling and shifting of chairs as people sit back down]
It’s not that the plan was entirely bad, just that it afforded so little room for error that everything needed to go right for things to work out. Which meant having Brandon Morrow healthy by June and Ben Zobrist actually being on the active roster. It meant having Daniel Descalso produce like a replacement-level player at the very minimum.
And now it means taking action to ensure that all those words actually become something worthwhile instead of just becoming so much extra flotsam for the fatberg.
“We haven’t played well enough to rule anything out,” Jed Hoyer said recently. “We have to keep an open mind because of the way the last couple months have gone.”
You can talk about how the Cubs had to play on all but one day in June or how this series in Pittsburgh will finish a stretch of 50 games in 52 days, or 60 games in 63 days if you push to early May, but it’s all lip service. I mean, yeah, those factors are very real and cant just be dismissed out of hand. At some point, though, that’s not going to work.
“You talk, talk, talk, and at some point, they just have to start getting it done,” Joe Maddon said after Monday’s embarrassment in Pittsburgh. “Those [mistakes] have been very glaring.”
It’s not just losing, it’s how they’ve lost over the last month and change. The Cubs have gone 20-26 in their last 46 games and have played the kind of sloppy baseball that was the hallmark of those 2012-14 teams that were designed to produce high draft picks rather than high win totals.
“We have to do better,” Daniel Descalso admitted. “We have to play better, in all facets. I don’t think the product we put out on the field recently is indicative of the team we have in here, the talent we have in here.”
Apparently Illinois legalized kettles along with pot, because that seems to be what’s happening here. Seriously, though, Descalso’s absolutely right and the Cubs do need to be better. And not just the players, but Maddon’s staff and the front office as well. The brunt of the blame will surely fall on Maddon, whose expiring contract and carousel of coaches leaves him as the lone scapegoat.
The front office is in the crosshairs as well, regardless of how restricted they were by a budget that was initially lower than they may have expected. We can point the finger at ownership, but it’s not exactly easy to hold Tom Ricketts accountable for any of this. Besides, there’s a whole lot of season left and the Cubs are still entirely capable of putting together a legit run before we reach for the torches and pitchforks.
So as they finish out the first half and head toward the single trade deadline at the end of the month, the time has come to take action that matches all that big talk. Changes need to be made, whether that’s trading for a lefty reliever and an impact bat or bringing up some young guys to replace vets who aren’t getting it done. Improvement from within? Sure, as long as it’s treated as gravy and not the meal itself.
And if that happens, they should be too busy eating to talk anymore.