There’s two kinds of Cubs fans, it seems: those who have brought up Steve Bartman every time there’s been a foul ball hit in the last 13 years, and those who realize there’s a good reason their team hasn’t won a World Series in 108 years. Because for most of them, the Cubs haven’t been very good.
It’s more complicated to be sure, but if you listen to Cubs fans, they invariably go into either category: those who whine, and those who shine with optimism.
The Cubs have been the best team in MLB in 2016 since the first day of camp, building a roster long on power, pitching, youth and options, for two months dominating all opponents, including cynicsm. Cubs fans from Column B wonder if this is the year, Cubs fans from Column A wonder what will go wrong.
Last week it all seemed to. The Cubs were swept by the Cardinals, lost three of four to Miami and and three-and-a-half games off an NL Central lead that was once 12 games. And Anthony Rizzo tweaked his back.
If you’re hearing about Bartman, the Billy Goat, Leo Durocher, Greg Maddux leaving, Dusty Baker staying too long with Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, Ernie Broglio and Leon Durham’s five hole, you’re hanging with Cubs fans from Column A.
If you’re hearing that it’s no time to panic, they’re probably young. Or too old to remember.
In truth, the baseball season is a little like stepping on the scale. It balances itself out over six months, and on the way, you may get a few numbers you don’t like.
The Giants and Rangers won their 49th games Sunday, one more than the Cubs. It’s apropos of nothing, but try telling a Cubs fan from Column A. They’ve got good reason to be paranoid, and at least once, the hypochondriac is always right.
The Cubs are still the best team in baseball. They have the best percentage, the best run differential (their +155 is 40 runs better than the Rangers’ and Giants’ combined) and the second-biggest divisional lead. They’re first in pitching and fourth in runs scored, and they just added 24-year-old Wilson Contreras, who was hitting .350 in AAA and followed that with three homers in his first major-league 23 at-bats. He’s a catcher.
The Cubs have a deep farm system and a front office that knows how to use it. When the Yankees decide to divest themselves of the game’s best bullpen, it’s most likely to be to the Cubs, who are run by folks who know something about winning over present-day opponents and historical strawmen.
None of this means the Cubs are assured of anything more than an opportunity. Thirty-two years ago the Tigers started 35-5 and really needed to win only three more games in the ALCS to get to the World Series.
It’s harder now. It takes two series and seven more wins in the postseason, and the Giants win every other year. It’s an even year, and the Giants are playing like it, though every year is an odd one for the Cubs.
But the Cubs have begun a period when it’s possible, maybe even probable, for them to win a World Series.
The Cubs may not win this year, but if they don’t, it won’t be because of Bartman, or an animal or 108 years of history.
Also of note (stats through Sunday’s games):
- It’s easy to assign credit for any Rockie hitter’s success to the park he plays in, but rookie Trevor Story, who hit his 19th homer Sunday, has hit 11 of them on the road. His .958 home OPS is 114 points better than his away one, but his .844 road OPS would still rank fifth among shortstops. Wherever he plays, he’s first in strikeouts (104).
- Rockies rookie pitcher Tyler Anderson has already pitched at four levels this year, starting once at Modesto (High A), twice at Hartford (AA), three times at Albuquerque (AAA) and three times for the Rockies. Anderson missed all of 2015 with an elbow injury, which is, in part, why he’s racked up the miles.
- Speaking of Andersons, White Sox rookie infielder Tim Anderson has batted 74 times this season and has zero walks. Naturally, he’s batting leadoff. Nothing explains the White Sox any better.
- Clay Buchholz has a 5.90 ERA but he’s even worse in the first inning. In his 12 starts, he’s given up runs in the first inning six times and has a 9.75 ERA. On pitches 1-15 of a game, he has a .948 OPS against (compared to .808 in all).
- The four earned runs the Pirates scored off Clayton Kershaw Sunday were the most he’s given up since the Marlins got five on April 26. In the 10 starts in between, Kershaw yielded 10 earned runs, and not more than two in any of them.
- Shin Soo-Choo has hit 142 home runs in his 12-year career, all but 26 off righties, and his career OPS vs. righties is 210 points better than off lefties. This year he’s hit all three of his home runs off lefties — David Price, Tony Cingrani and A’s rookie Sean Manaea — and his 1.550 OPS in 20 plate appearances (three homers, three singles, four walks) vs. lefties dwarfs his meager .628 vs. righties.
- ESPN.com’s Keith Law says the Mets’ signing of infielder Jose Reyes “sends the wrong message to their fans and their organization, whitewashing a serious assault in the name of finding a better utility infielder,” which is similar to what he wrote when the Yankees traded for Aroldis Chapman. Law is right — it does gloss over an alleged act of violence — to a point. Reyes wasn’t tried. He wasn’t convicted. Upon signing, Reyes said he “deeply (regrets) the incident that occurred,” which left Law unconvinced. He might be right. But it’s hard to blame the Mets for signing a player who was accused and not convicted. If they don’t, one of their competitors might.
- Twelve relievers have thrown at least 20 innings this year and not allowed a home run: Fernando Rodney, Boone Logan, Wade Davis, Brad Ziegler, Dan Otero, Dan Jennings, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Will Harris, Adam Liberatore, Shane Greene and Joe Biagini. Of those, Jennings and Ziegler have thrown the most innings (33.1). The starter who has allowed the fewest homers in at least 60 innings is Rich Hill (two in 64.1). Jake Arrieta (three in 98), Gerrit Cole (three in 68.1) and CC Sabathia (three in 69.2) are next.
- The player without a home run in the most at-bats this year is Billy Burns, who has zero in 252 at-bats. Eleven other players are without a homer in at least 125 plate appearances, and only five of them are Braves: Ender Inciarte (189 at-bats), Erick Aybar (188), A.J. Pierzynski (152; he’s hit 186 homers in his career but none this year; he’s slugging .237 on his way to a .462 OPS. The Braves dumped Christian Bethancourt for that?); Chase d’Arnaud (128) and Daniel Castro (121). The others are White Sox outfielder Austin Jackson (181), Giants outfielder Gregor Blanco (169), Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli (167), Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki (146), released Royals infielder Omar Infante (134) and Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson (123).
- Two players begin play Monday with OPSes of more than 1.000: David Ortiz (1.112) and Matt Carpenter (1.004). Manny Machado (.993) and Jose Altuve (.987) are close; Altuve’s previous best OPS was .830 in 2014.