What the heck is wrong with the Cubs?
Nothing, it seems.
At the plate, they’re displaying the kind of discipline former manager Joe Maddon lamented not seeing enough of over his last couple of seasons. In the field, they’re making all the plays. On the scoreboard, they’re partying — plenty of runs scored, not many given up — like it’s 2016.
So, then, what’s most right of all about the Cubs, owners of the best record in the big leagues? That was our first question in this week’s “Polling Place,” your weekly home for Sun-Times sports polls on Twitter.
“Playing the two easiest divisions in baseball, the NL Central and AL Central?” @peterbrownysr offered.
That doesn’t seem like giving nearly enough credit where it’s due. The Cubs are getting meaningful contributions from up and down their roster. Following manager David Ross’ lead, they’re having a blast in the dugout during games — “basically playing high school summer baseball right now,” veteran Anthony Rizzo said. And we ought not overlook their as-yet-unblemished record when it comes to players’ COVID-19 test results.
But not of the above is what voters chose — by a wide margin — as the biggest key to it all, and that’s starting pitching. How good has it been? Put it this way: 11 times in the Cubs’ first 16 games, the starter allowed one or zero runs. That’s a recipe for a first-place cakewalk.
“Gotta find my Cubs T-shirts,” @rynelancer commented. “Wait, every time I do that, they go to [expletive].”
OK, so maybe it’s still too early in the season to be talking cakewalks.
On to the polls:
Poll No. 1: What has been the biggest key to the Cubs’ best-in-baseball start?
Upshot: Kyle Hendricks, who threw a shutout on Opening Day, has stepped into Jon Lester’s top-of-the-rotation shoes and looked extremely comfortable. Lester himself has been far better than anyone could’ve expected. And how welcome has Yu Darvish’s mini-roll — victories in three straight starts for the first time since 2014 — been? Heading into the season, the rotation, especially after Jose Quintana’s freak injury, looked like a potential weakness. Instead, it’s the backbone of a leading contender.
Poll No. 2: Would the Cubs be this good if Joe Maddon were still manager?
Upshot: Maddon’s Cubs record was superb. If there’s a Mt. Rushmore of Chicago coaches and managers, he’s on it. “Ross is doing great, but Maddon wouldn’t have done any less of a great job,” @mikeygalos wrote. Then again, Maddon drove some fans a little nutty with his lineup tinkering and his quick hook with pitchers. “Maddon was a complete joke,” @PetermanPrest wrote. Sorry, did we say a little nutty?
Poll No. 3: The NBA playoffs begin on Monday. Who’s your title pick?
Upshot: The Bucks have the best record in the league, but they kind of stunk things up in the Orlando bubble. Thus, only about one-fourth of the vote in favor of Giannis Antetokounmpo and company — and roughly the same in favor of LeBron James, Anthony Davis and company. Clearly, the contrarians and naysayers are having their moment.