This was supposed to be a slightly sad, mostly wistful season for the Cubs. Instead, two months in, it has turned into a surprise party.
Public discussions about whether to break up the core that won the 2016 World Series have gladly given way to the thrill of a fun, unexpectedly competitive team.
Grim debates about which popular player should be traded have taken a back seat to the entertainment value of Javy Baez’ ability to lure opponents into looking really, really stupid.
I’d like to compare all of it to funeral plans being ditched for a miracle-cure celebration, but that would be a bit much. How about a prison sentence being commuted? Still too much? You’re no fun.
Entering Friday afternoon’s game against the Reds, the Cubs were 27-22, a half-game behind the first-place Cardinals in the National League Central. They had won nine of their previous 11 games, jumping from fourth place to second in that stretch.
It can’t be stressed enough that we’re only 30% through the schedule, but who saw this 30% coming? Not your faithful scribe.
With the franchise’s never-ending money grabs and its eternal mewling about a lack of resources to pay big salaries as the backdrop, 2021 looked to be a season of dark, unmoving clouds over Wrigley Field. That’s why what’s happening now is so cool. The one thing that we’re all here for — baseball — is going well. It might not be the exact plot to “Major League,” but the people who play and coach the game sure are sticking it to the highers-up who seem to be hell-bent on turning the page.
I don’t want to get into a debate over which direction the Cubs should go, over who is right and who is wrong. The World Series title was a long time ago. Players are getting older. All of it is true. But it’s also true that, to repeat, the Cubs are a half-game out of first place. Maybe put a hold on the What Can We Get For Kris Bryant talk.
When Baez made Pirates first baseman Will Craig look silly Thursday, it was a glorious reminder that, man, these are fun times for these Cubs. Baez’ two-out grounder to third looked like a sure end to the third inning. But when Craig took the slightly off-target throw, Baez stopped on the base path before reaching first. Rather than STEP ON THE BAG FOR THE THIRD OUT, Craig chased Baez back toward home plate, like a cat pursuing a piece of cheese on a string. Seeing Willson Contreras racing for home from second, Craig threw the ball to the catcher. Contreras beat the tag. More hilarity ensued when a throwing error to first allowed Baez to get to second. The Cubs’ dugout looked like an overserved comedy-club audience.
Inanity and insanity. The good kind.
The Cubs’ bats have warmed up after a slow start. The team’s earned-run average in May is 2.73, second-best in the big leagues. The bullpen has been outstanding.
So far, the storyline of a franchise in serious decline looks very, very fragile. Maybe that storyline will rise up again next week or the week after. Enjoy this for however long it lasts, for however far the Cubs go.
I received an email from a reader complaining that the baseball coverage in Friday’s Sun-Times weighed heavily in favor of the Cubs over the White Sox. I found it amusing. The Sox have received the lion’s share of attention for most of this season. They’re a good, young team dealing with an old-school manager, and vice-versa. It’s a sports section’s dream. Now the Cubs are budging their way into the picture, and some Sox fans have resorted to their age-old grievance about the North Siders receiving most-favored-nation status.
Can we be happy with two good teams in town? Everybody together: Of course not!
Off the field, the Cubs are doing their ritual filching of wallets. The franchise is telling fans that it might spend more money on the roster if they start showing up in large numbers at Wrigley. The people with the big dough telling the peasants they need to spend whatever is jangling around in their pockets — now that’s rich.
On the field, the team’s Big Three — Baez, Bryant and Anthony Rizzo — is still here, but the guessing game continues. Who will be here next year? Who will be here after this year’s trade deadline?
I don’t care right now. Hope I don’t have to care about it at the end of July, either.