It is truly crazy to me that this Chicago Cubs team has now lost more times than it has won this year.
Like, I have been here for the whole thing, so I definitely have seen how and why it has played out this way – the Cubs have earned those 26 losses – but I cannot square the roster that I see with the results they’ve been getting.
For that reason, I find myself doing – almost daily at this point – what I suspect so many of you are doing: I’m trying to figure out “what’s wrong with the Cubs?”
What is the one, harmonizing theory of everything that offers an “ah ha!” of what’s causing this team to so dramatically underperform? And if we can identify that one thing – or two, maybe it’s two things! – then the Cubs can set about fixing it. Not because they’d have heard it from us, of course, but because they already figured it out a week ago and have started laying the groundwork for a fix.
The thing that’s wrong with the team. Fix it.
There’s a problem with that, of course.
It might be comforting to “figure out” what overarching thing is wrong with the team, but that fails to recognize that baseball is a collection of individual players dealing with individual issues, playing in individual games that are decided in one direction or the other for a variety of reasons.
There is no “thing” that’s wrong with the Cubs. There is a whole lot of individual stuff going wrong for players, and going wrong at particular moments in particular games where that wrong thing swings the outcome. Together, the Cubs are blending poor performance and bad luck into a turd stew that results in things like a five-game losing streak and a sub-.500 record at the end of May.
There’s not one identifiable, fixable thing that corrects all of this:
- The Cubs have seen every one of their returning starting pitchers get worse results so far than last year.
- The Cubs have a huge question mark at the fifth starter spot.
- The Cubs’ defense was historically good last year, and that was probably never repeatable. And, so far, it hasn’t been. In fact, by the measures we’re able to take at this point, the defense has barely been above average.
- The Cubs aren’t hitting with runners in scoring position. At all. It’s severely dragging down the offensive production.
- Kyle Schwarber hasn’t been close to what we’d hope he would be at this point.
- Addison Russell has been struggling horribly, and I hope his shoulder is OK.
- Willson Contreras is not producing at the level he did last year.
- The Cubs got a spark initially from Ian Happ, but pitchers adjusted big time.
- The version of Jason Heyward we’ve been so excited to see this year is still just a league-average hitter.
- Anthony Rizzo went through an extended, deep slump, and hasn’t performed overall like he has the past three years.
- The Cubs have played a very tough schedule so far.
- The Cubs’ underlying performance suggests they should probably have an extra win or two.
So if there isn’t a “thing” that’s wrong with the Cubs … how do they get better? Well, that, too, is highly individualized.
Some of the things will resolve themselves over time – or, that is to say, the best you can do is hope that they’ll resolve themselves. For an extreme example, it’s not as if the Cubs are going to bench Anthony Rizzo during a slump. And while some young Cubs could be benched or optioned and the Cubs might see improved performance overall, there’s a tough balance between trying to get that immediate slight improvement for the team and not wrecking a young player’s development (which could include a net gain in, say, July-September if the Cubs stay focused on developing that player).
I’ll tell you this: I don’t envy the front office or the coaching staff in this moment. No, it’s not like we’ve got sympathy for them – this is their job, and they’ve got the joy of a World Series right there in the rearview. But the task of “fixing” this many issues on a team with this high of expectations when it’s not like the parts are all fungible and can just be shuffled in and out … it’s gotta be so challenging and frustrating.
In that respect, I’d bet you dollars to donuts that the front office and coaching staff feel a lot like we do in this moment: like they’re watching the wheels coming off a very well-constructed pinewood derby car in the middle of the race, knowing that the pieces on the track are the pieces that have to work, and hoping desperately that the car stays together just long enough to finish the race.
The simile is inexact, of course, because the front office can make roster moves (and you better believe they’re plotting their course as best they can for the coming months), and the coaching staff can work with the players to improve performance.
Let’s hope they figure out a way to get those wheels secured mid-race. Or at least a couple of the wheels. Maybe that’ll be enough. The other cars in this race look kind of rickety, too.