The Cubs Are Who We Thought They Were

Tony Campana will remember May 17, 2011 as the day he made his major league debut, the day he scored his first run, notched his first RBI, and delivered the first single of his career. People around the world might remember it as a night with a full moon, particularly if they gave birth, went cuckoo, or were attacked by werewolves. People around baseball will remember it as the day Harmon Killebrew took his battle with cancer to the other side of the fence.

Anyone who witnessed the Cubs play the Reds last night will have trouble shaking the memory of the worst baseball game we ever witnessed. The Reds won, as they did the night before, by being the team who screwed up slightly less spectacularly. And let me be clear, I’m not talking about bad hitting, throwing fat pitches down over the heart of the plate, or even foolish managerial decisions. There may have been some of that on both sides, but you can expect to see such things even in well played baseball games.

No, the stuff of last night’s game was, on a scale of unicorn farts to elephant crap, an overflowing canyon of Godzilla diarrhea. Five of the Reds’ 7 runs yesterday were scored on two balls that didn’t leave the infield, one of them a sacrifice bunt. That’s a grounder to first and a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher. Five. Runs.

Then there was Wellington Castillo, successfully gloving strike three in the dirt and then watching Miguel Cairo wander aimlessly to the dugout no to first base ha ha, tricked you! That was awesome. Oh, and remember when Reed Johnson was up with two runners on and nobody out and he fouled a bunt, missed a bunt, and then swung and missed for strike three? Yeah, when the Reds sac bunt, they score two runs and move the bunter to third. When the Cubs do it, they’re lucky to make contact. They’re gamers, though, so whatever.

Mike Quade pretty much agrees with this assessment, by the way. He said, “If we haven’t hit rock bottom with this, we’re pretty damn close.”

It was embarrassing to watch. I had been working with my seven-year-old son on proper catching technique and actually brought him inside to watch the Cubs game to see how comfortably professionals can catch a baseball. Oh, how I wish I could undo that decision. The boy is scarred for life. Dear God, what have I done?

It’s cool, God, I’ll answer my own question. I’ve failed to stay in touch with appropriate expectations.  Heading into this year, we knew the Cubs were not built to contend. The other guys here at Obstructed View have done fantastic jobs of presenting the projections and comparing the team’s progress against expectations. I won’t redouble their efforts (though if I overcome this bout of laziness, I’ll link to some of them). Suffice it to say that the Cubs are a little worse than was generally expected, but their current place in the standings certainly fits within the realm of reasonable expectations.

We shouldn’t be surprised the Cubs are a below-.500 team. We expected this.

The Cubs also play baseball, a sport in which crazy things sometimes happen. Two wild throws from two different Cubs pitchers resulting in five Reds runs? That’s crazy. Bad as last night’s game was, I don’t want to sit here in my dank corner of the Interbasement saying that last night’s game is indicative of the Cubs’ true talent. Either one of those plays would stand on their own merits as just a fluke, an aberration, a quirk in the game of baseball that, while unexpected, is bound to show up at one time or another. The fact that they both happened in one game to the same star-crossed team? That’s just sprinkles on the funfetti cake of miserable baseball that is the 2011 Cubs. But honestly, it could have happened to any baseball team. That’s just how baseball goes sometimes.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the occasional embarrassing game (or even two in succession). That’s baseball.

And let’s not forget, this is the Cubs we’re talking about here. Lou called them Cubbie Occurrences. Lou Piniella is a genius. These things seem to happen to the Cubs. Maybe it’s a myth. Maybe our perception is lying to us. Even so, bizarre losses and abysmal plays that make it look like the Cubs are cursed happen frequently enough that we shouldn’t be shocked when they recur. 

We shouldn’t be surprised that baseball’s bizarre flukes tend to play out so often before our eyes as Cubs fans. That’s Cubs baseball.

We should know, the Cubs aren’t the team historically that lucks their way into championships. They aren’t a team that buys their way into championships. They aren’t a franchise that builds from the ground up and sees a dynasty rise out of the ashes like a phoenix. They are Wile E. Coyote, and greatness is their Roadrunner. We shouldn’t expect them to catch it. We should expect them to come tantalizingly close and then fail spectacularly in creatively painful new ways. And even if they do eventually find themselves in a position of destiny, we can expect it to go something like this:

Forgive me if I find it all pretty entertaining.