By Dan Bernstein–
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) To say there are no defining games in a Major League Baseball season is just another way of illustrating that all of them are, in the sense that performance over the 162 defines the quality of a team.
It’s an exercise in semantics really, just as the concept of a significant series before the fact is mostly just us playing our own mental games. The Cubs taking on the Nationals for four games in Washington feels of outsized importance, of course, because the Nationals are good and the Cubs are not, and the two had a similarly high-profile matchup last season that the Cubs swept. That’s even before — or if — we go into any of the “potential playoff preview” silliness.
That series stood out after all was said and done, but the 2016 Cubs had already established themselves at that point. It’s again a reminder that we can only know the games and moments that best represented a given team after all of them are played. These games can end up mattering anywhere on the continuum from “not much at all” to “a little bit more than average for a non-divisional opponent.”
There are plenty of big names and a familiar manager in this series, and the future possibility of Bryce Harper choosing the Cubs in free agency based entirely on one musing by one reporter. It’s fun, but it’s a series in June.
If you actually want to see something emblematic of 2017, look just back instead of just ahead, no further than to examine the series they split in Miami against the low-profile Marlins. It had enough of the elements distilled and encapsulated to provide ample picture of this year’s fitful effort — win, loss, win, loss, bats on, bats off, a couple bad bounces and missed signs, plenty of opportunities to score that fizzled in the moment and players all over the roster filling in due to multiple injuries.
These games in Washington might be flashier, but those told the tale of the 38-37 Cubs and all of their self-made headwinds. Halfway through the season, they’re still lacking escape velocity, pulled close by the gravity of .500 and still unable to reach higher orbit.