As Quest Begins for Another Chip, Cubs Already Playing with One on Their Shoulder

Chicken Little’s lungs got quite a workout this winter as the Cubs did virtually nothing to beat back a sky that has been falling for at least two years. That’s quite a change from last spring, when fans and players alike protested after Baseball Prospectus revealed its institutional hatred of the organization by directing its PECOTA projection to peg them at 79 wins and a last-place finish.

Ed. note: In the highly unlikely event that any MLB advisors from BP are reading this and taking it way too seriously, please note that I’m aware of how PECOTA works and that you don’t really hate any team.

This season, however, the roles have been reversed as PECOTA likes the Cubs a good deal more than a significant portion of the fanbase. The Cubs are projected to win 85 games, second to the Reds’ 86, and sneak into the postseason with the second Wild Card. Believe it or not, some fans are actually pissed that the team could do better than they’d expected. It’s wild stuff, but no more so than actually wanting Kris Bryant to be traded.

Anyway, the result of all this is that the players feel underappreciated and even a little disrespected either way.

“We definitely have a chip on our shoulder,” Kyle Schwarber said when asked about the idea that the Cubs were on the downswing. “I know we all expect a lot more of ourselves than what’s happened the last couple years.

“You look at it on paper, you’ve got a bunch of guys in here that are studs, from the staff to the position players to the bullpen, the coaching staff, the front office, the owners, everything like that.”

He’s not wrong, you know. Well, not completely. The Cubs absolutely do have a roster that is talented enough to win a division in which the by-God Cincinnatah Reds are currently favored by the numbers nerds and their computers. What remains in short supply in Chicago — or Mesa, if you’re into geographical fidelity — is margin for error. They’re long in the tooth but have lacked bite late in each of the last two campaigns.

The rotation has questions that are probably best answered with more questions, the bulk-based bullpen could be an engine or an anchor, and the bench has so little depth that they might run aground regardless. Then again, the Cubs have new life from a manager who’s coming in with all kinds of vigor and isn’t likely to be checking out halfway through the season. They’re working to clean up the silly mental mistakes that were indicative of the team PECOTA projected rather than what everyone else expected.

So when you consider how poorly they played in stretches last year, whether it was because they were shooting themselves in the feet or injuring them at an alarming pace, the Cubs earned every bit of disrespect they’ve received. On that front, sentiment is actually shifting now that Bryant appears to be staying put and people have begun to put down their torches and pitchforks after their arms got tired from waving them for the better part of four months.

Hell, I was only able to type this column after applying significant amounts of Biofreeze — the official topical pain reliever of the Chicago Cubs, now available at all Walgreens locations — on both shoulders and applying a little salve to the burns on my right ear. It’s made my head a little cooler, which is how the more experienced players appear to be approaching things in the wake of 2019’s Year of Reckoning.

“Chip on our shoulder? I don’t see why we even deserve a chip on our shoulder,” Antony Rizzo told the media Wednesday. “We didn’t make the playoffs. This year, we gotta go out and earn it. I think it’s on us to be the best team this year.

“We got talent, but to be the best team will take us to new levels.”

Wait, so do they have chips or don’t they? Maybe we should get Marquee’s Jason Hammel — not to be confused with Jason Marquis, who is one of only three living former Cubs not yet in the employ of the new network — to weigh in and break the tie. You know, because he ate potato chips to alleviate his cramping issues.

Far be it for me to advise Manager David’s team on how they should view the coming season, but they’d probably do well to avoid looking to either the past or the future. There’s no reason to worry about what happened last year or what’ll happen if they’re not near the top of the division at the trade deadline. They just need to go out and win each day, even if that means something as simple as showing up early and busting ass at practice.

Sounds like at least one key member of the roster has already embraced that mentality.

“Do I look like a guy that thinks about his future?” Schwarber asked rhetorically in the most Schwarberian response ever. “I live day by day. I’m just happy I showed up today.”

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