These are the stretches – usually somewhere in the season OTHER than the first dang week – when I have to remind myself in the morning that the Cubs *can* win a baseball game tonight. It is permitted. And maybe they will. That would be nice.
As for the current four-game losing streak, you’ll forgive me if it freaks me the heck out to see quotes like this:
Jon Lester: "We’ll be fine. We’re all – from top to bottom – pressing a little bit too much right now. We just need to get back to playing the baseball that we’re accustomed to playing. And I think everything else will take care of itself."
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) April 4, 2019
"I think we put such an emphasis on getting off to a good start that I think it’s kind of hanging over our heads a little bit right now. We just need to get back to being us. …Attack hitters, throw strikes and make them hit the ball to our really good defense."
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) April 4, 2019
And more Lester from (Cubs.com): “We all want to get off to a good start. I think what we’re doing a little bit right now is maybe just trying to press and do too much. Everybody’s trying to come in and, whether it be a hitting situation or a pitching situation, be the guy. That’s hard to do over 162 games. I think we put such an emphasis on getting off to a good start that it’s kind of hanging over our heads a little bit. We just need to get back to being us.”
So, to be very clear, I do like that it’s Jon Lester – the veteran who seems completely unrattled by many things, and who was the Cubs’ best player last night – saying these things. I like that he’s front and center, being this guy. That’s not at all the part the freaks me out.
It’s not even the end point of his comments that freaks me out, because he’s right! The games that have happened have happened, and you can’t change them now. Just be yourselves, throw strikes, and let the chips fall over the course of a much larger sample.
Instead, what freaks me out is the implication of his comments. What it suggests about the state of things in the clubhouse, and the context in which the comments are taking place.
Here’s some of that context: the front office (slash ownership) made no significant changes to the roster after last year’s wear down, left Joe Maddon in place as a lame duck for the final year of his deal, and then preached the “urgency” of getting off to a hot start this year on the basis of behind-the-scenes changes and individual motivation. And now you’ve got an admission that the players are already pressing? In the first week of the season? I am bordering on a really irrational reaction here. This is exactly the problem I was afraid of when you simultaneously want a chill vibe (which has worked when you have the talent!) but also want players to know they need to treat every game like it could be the difference between the playoffs and not.
Pressing cannot be the attitude anyone wants, and it is not going to be conducive to getting these guys’ natural talent to shine through. I get that you can’t just get in their faces and scream “DON’T PRESS GUYS, IT’S FINE!” – you could wind up worsening the very problems that seem to be taking root. But man, this is a bed that was dressed up nice and comfy by decisions that were made long before this season began. I just hope the people in charge can figure out how to help prevent the otherwise very good players from laying in it.
For his part, Theo Epstein says all the things you know in your heart to be true when you turn down the meatball a little:
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) April 4, 2019
An example Epstein quote: “Everything that our players were talking about and we were talking about this offseason sort of relates to attitude and preparation. That’s been really good. Our guys are showing up, wanting to put their best foot forward and compete every night. It’s still baseball. Nothing we were talking about this offseason – or that has become this narrative that I hope will die really soon and we get into the flow of the season – relates to outcome on a particular night.”
In other words, the way I read that, when fans and media talk about URGENCY on a nightly basis, it kind of annoys Epstein, since that’s not a matter of being able to see it in the results of every game (otherwise, the team “trying the hardest” would go 162-0). He’s not wrong. But when that sure as heck felt like the predicate – or at least the executive summary – for an entire offseason plan, I’m gonna have some fun and make jokes in the down moments:
Cubs need a Director of Urgency, whose job it is to scream from the bench, “You there! You are not being urgent enough! And you! Turn up the urgency to 11! I will now spell urgency aloud while pumping this towel!”
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) April 3, 2019
In any case, more broadly, Epstein still believes the work the team put in over the offseason, and continues to put in every day, will ultimately manifest itself in the outcomes of games over a large enough sample. Maybe so. Hopefully so. It will help if the players can relax a bit.
Fortunately, this club has a number of successful veterans – Lester possibly chief among them – who have seen some things. Who’ve been through moments like this. I suppose they will probably have to do more to pump the breaks on “pressing” than anyone on the coaching staff or in the front office could.
Like I said at the top: the Cubs *can* win a baseball game tonight. Nothing that happened before precludes it.