By Sean "Pharaoh" Terry (@Craftbeersochi)
History has a strange way of repeating itself – even if in sports, the results are seldom, if ever, the same.
Unfortunately, getting past the worst drought in sports history to win it all in 2016 has somehow manifested itself in only two years to a return of the past – producing an all too familiar air of entitlement that has rationalized delusions of grandeur we hear from many a Chicago Cubs fan.
This is the environment an on-edge franchise base faces as it prepares for a Wild Card Game tonight (vs. Rockies, 7:05 pm, 670 the Score) that everyone involved knows it should have avoided. In a mere 27 outs the fourth straight run for a title in an unprecedented run of success for the once-saddest franchise in Major League Baseball could be the kind of run we were all so used to prior to 2015.
Wild Cubs season comes down to one game — and a chance for redemption (Tribune)
Last Sunday afternoon, while watching the Bears and Cardinals lock horns, I got into a mild debate with a fellow Chicago fan. You may think the genesis of our debate had to do with Money Making Mitch’s touch on the deep ball — instead it was about the Cubs and whether they have the eye of the tiger this year.
That very question remained like a thick smog over Wrigleyville in a final weekend of regular season play that could have seen the Cubs solidify their place atop the National League while securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs – but leave it to the Cubs to take the road less traveled by first deciding to lay eggs against the Cardinals in two of three opportunities over the weekend.
As such, to some the past seven days must have felt oddly like ’15 with the NL Central coming down to one final weekend dash – the culmination of a season’s long dogfight — between the then plucky underdog Cubs along with fellow underdogs from Pittsburgh and ever-mighty St. Louis — came to a head through the time the Wild Card matches came to fruition.
There was plenty of urgency in the moment versus the Cardinals, who themselves were holding on to an outside hope of getting into the wild card game, that was their high point. The Cubs on the other hand should have seen getting into the wild card as their low point, playing another two games in two days after ending the regular season should have been something to avoid at all costs.
Instead, the Cubs managed to continue their trend towards inconsistency in a series that could have set them up with four days off and home field advantage through the NL postseason.
An all too recognizable too-cool-for-TV refrain that has plagued the North Siders for most of the second half of the season left room for their overly-motivated neighbors to the north, the Milwaukee Brewers, to ride a momentous train right up to the doorsteps of Clark and Addison with many fans in tow from beyond the state line, kicking down Wrigley’s doors and scuffing up the Harry Carey, Ron Santo and Ernie Banks statues with emphatic fashion to snatch the Central crown off the head of the two-time defending champions.
And So, There Was 163…
Have you ever had one of those infused evenings on the block, you know the kind where two homies are talking slick about who had the most “jets” back in the day?
That kind conversation usually starts playful but sometime just past the wee hours of midnight the discussion hits a switch, taking on a chestier tone before the idea of settling things over a foot race in the blind of the night to the next closest stop sign? I’ve certainly been there and I’ve bared witness to the sensation of seeing Home Boy #1 get off to a head start for about ½ the length of the block, only to see Home Boy #2 (barefoot, mind you) hawk down and surpass Home Boy #1 with a blaze of glory, capping off the victory with a resounding slap on the stop sign before adding an exclamation point in the form of a semi-tuck in the grass.
Such a feeling enveloped me in seeing how Monday’s one-game showdown against the Brewers played out, except this time my money was on the homie who didn’t back up all the talk. Credit the Brewers for playing like their cleats were on fire the entire second half – hawking the Cubs down despite Chicago’s 5-game lead on the division just a mere 30 days ago.
Be that as it may, the Cubs remain on life-support for one more day – leaving a small, yet waning glimmer of hope that the once touted Goliath can recapture the eye of the tiger.
Bigger Problems Brewing…
With bragging rights and playoff positioning on the hinges, the dog-eat-dog nature of things at Wrigley these days calls to question the pulse of the organization down this recent stretch, as the Cubs appear to be on the brink of a 2004-like collapse thanks to several unfortunate and untimely recent narratives that have blurred the organizations focus this season.
For what it’s worth, none of the off-the-field news that the Cubs have had to deal with of late should be taken lightly. Between the off-the-field domestic incidents and resulting investigation of Addison Russell and a racially charged melee in the bleachers capturing sports headlines for all the wrong reasons – the Cubs PR staff has surely been working overtime to clean things up before the club tip toes into October, but you got to figure an overall bad juju could exist when such hairy headlines will most certainly be magnified on the national stage.
In juggling the many moving parts needed to keep the Cubs relevant this season you got to feel that Joe Maddon is being left visibly stressed this season. Oh, how I long for the days of the levity-filled and Malort-fueled pre- and post-game interviews with the Oracle from Western Penn. smiling and winking the whole way. There’s no room to be cute when addressing Cubs Nation nowadays.
The wit and perspective remain for Maddon, but some of the luster on a nearly perfect managerial reputation has subsided ever so as the questionable lineup moves and bullpen collapses are bunching up at the wrong time.
As grayed and grizzled as he’s ever been, Maddon wears the Grit on his sleeve, admittedly speaking of how he no longer manages for the big-picture and instead places all focus on the day. And so here it is Cubs fans – as it stands, we remain playoff eligible for another 24-hours, but the residue of a season mired in misses continues to cast as ominous and foreboding a cloud as ever over the organization.
Maddon, like most managers who have routine October visitation rights, could very well have one or two more tricks up his sleeves to get his squad in line for one more deep run but it appears the faithful will have to wait until the 9th inning tonight with two outs to see them unfold.
I, for one, would’ve preferred to see Captain Quick Hook take a more predictable approach – you know, like entrusting your starter to go deeper than 65 pitches in a one game division determinant versus the Brewers but “In Maddon We Trust” – right?
Credit due once again to the up-surging Brewers, who proved the depth in this year’s NL Central was always a legitimate threat to the Cubs: gone are the days of the Cubs basically dominating every statistical category when measured against their foes.
Such parity in the 2018 season seemingly disengaged the cruise control button for the Cubs back in July, while injuries (Kris Bryant, primarily) and a lack of progression from the youngsters (Javy Baez aside) essentially forced Maddon’s hand towards working out a solution to the lineup’s constraints on a seemingly daily basis.
And so, on the 163rd day of the season, under the graying skies at Wrigley, Maddon would surprise most by leaning on the type of conventional lineup wisdom many have longed for all season, well that is up until about the 5th inning when his distrust for starting pitching would reveal its ugly head once again. This time, Jose Quintana would suffer the consequences of the short leash despite his sheer mastery against the Brewers all season.
Last month on this site I implored Cubs fans to embody the essence of the 10th man while going the route of Da’ Coach in an ultimate act of /solidarity: #BringBackDaStash
If the idea of going thick-stashed wasn’t enough to get your juices flowing come October, then I’m not quite sure what else to tell you to do to galvanize the energy during this year’s playoff run.
So here’s one final plea for the screen print boys over at $2.00 T’s: #LoudOnDeck
For all my tweeps who saw me dip my toe in the water with the hashtag earlier this season, you know that I’m not exactly reefer-ing to the kind of loud many a Cubs fan will be self-medicating with if we find ourselves bowing out the dance earlier than expected.
Instead, this reference regards getting fans to do the opposite of what history has predicated in the past when the Cubs aren’t clicking on all cylinders. Sitting on your hands in silence while waiting on something to happen has proven to be a painful and unyielding way to go about watching a season end unceremoniously.
Loud baseball played from a loud environment provided by Cubs Nation is about the fans pouring into the game and giving the players as much inspiration as the players give us. It’s about tapping into the essence of ’15-16, when Starlin Castro’s walkup song, “Ando En La Versace” by the artist Omega created an infectious atmosphere in the ballpark that jolted the club and fostered a never-say-die spirit.
And while the Cubs obviously came up short in the 2015 season after surprisingly getting the best of both Pittsburgh and St. Louis, heading to the NLCS to lose to the Mets, the seedlings of a rebirthed Cubs spirit took root. What manifested itself the following year came about thanks to Anthony Rizzo’s tributary efforts and a club that was ready to realize its visionary riches.
As we approach the 11th hours of the final day we can acknowledge the essence of the Grit has been real this season. And while I can stand not hearing about Rizzo going all “Magic Mike” to the theme song to the movie “Rocky,” perhaps history this evening can rewrite itself like a Kendrick Lamar remix and set forth a new type of Cubs DNA (see the trailer for the upcoming “Creed 2” for credence).
This one is about the embrace of being the hunted, while breathing life into a new type of grit that does away with the sucker shit and instead fosters a restored confidence that’s rooted in beer baths and dirty uniforms and close calls. Here’s to hoping Cubs fans have it in them to turn up on a Tuesday.
Sean Terry is a co-founder of WARR, he writes about the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball