By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) The Cubs got owned by the Brewers over the weekend. “Embarrassing” would be an appropriate descriptor, especially what with them smirkingly ignoring the division rival’s second conniption fit over scheduling this season. To let the Brewers come to Wrigley Field desperate for division air and sweep you and get to then just two games back in the race for the National League Central crown is unacceptable, in the way your child not submitting homework is unacceptable.
Far away in another part of the NL, the Los Angeles Dodgers — this year’s Cubs — headed into Tuesday night having lost 16 of their last 17 games, including 11 in a row, and being outscored 101-44 across those 17. Hollywood was noticeably panicked, notes Andy McCullough of the LA Times:
The best team in baseball. The sobriquet fit. Those were the 2017 Dodgers, the purported team of a lifetime, a group assembled by a high-powered front office, supported with the sport’s largest payroll, aided by strategic innovations, infused with a rare combination of stardom and depth and imbued with a flair for the dramatic. No lead felt safe when the Dodgers came to the plate. Anything seemed possible.
Everything, except for what happened next. By losing 10 in a row and 15 of 16 heading into Monday night’s game at San Francisco, the Dodgers shattered the confidence of a fan base wary after four consecutive early playoff exits.
To show for it, the Dodgers have a paltry winning percentage on the year of .639, best in baseball. But the chattering of teeth in sunny California isn’t unexpected when a stretch gets that ugly and so opposite of the rest of their season. The Cubs are lucky to only disappoint in smaller chunks several times across the season that make even the fan still drunk on last year’s flat champagne think, “Maybe wait ‘til next year again.”
But Dodgers fans could always remember who knocked them out of the playoffs last year — the very Cubs who in 2016 had their ebbs and fan ledge-sitting multiple times across the season. There were those fatalistic Cubs fans who were flipping out in late May last year during a 4-8 stretch after it took more than a month into the season for the team to lose consecutive flipping games whatsoever.
Because despite every indication last year that the Cubs were really good, despite manager Joe Maddon and his players telling everyone all year that at their worst or best in the regular season that nothing was accomplished and despite every glowing magazine declaration crowning them in the spring and summer, fans didn’t believe it until Anthony Rizzo didn’t drop the final throw from a slipping Kris Bryant in Cleveland.
And yet they were always good. They were always fine, even when Jon Lester was a bust and Jake Arrieta regressed and the offense would take a twice-monthly trip to the land of wind and ghosts.
The Dodgers are the best team in baseball right now. They’re scuffling oddly enough during the return of ace Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers could lose 10 more in a row and still be baseball’s best team, definitely winning their division at least.
But when really good teams are in really bad droughts, we have to know: What does it all mean? It means baseball. The whole win-60, lose-60, something-with-the-other-42-games thing. Let’s not overthink this as we tend to do with every bad Cubs week.
Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci wrote on Tuesday about the Dodgers’ fatal flaw, an inability to hit high fastballs. (Note that plenty of ink has been spilled on the Cubs this year and last being unable to hit breaking stuff.) But Verducci also notes that one of the Dodgers’ issues is that they’ve coasted after having 91 @#$%ing wins on Aug. 25 during a 25-5 period of baseball.
Los Angeles has been in spring training mode for too long, playing with the luxury of a big lead. The Dodgers’ current NL West lead of nine games is the lowest it’s been since the All-Star break, and it peaked at 21 games ahead on Aug. 23.
Manager Dave Roberts has started a pitcher on four days of rest only seven times in the second half of the season, down from 34 in the first half. Presumptive playoff starters Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Rich Hill have thrown just two combined starts on “normal” rest in the second half. Their 41 team starts on four days are the fewest in baseball.
Verducci concludes that despite the fatal flaw and ensuring the starting pitching is rested, nobody should be worried about the Dodgers. The horror.
You’re damn right they’ve coasted. The Dodgers can start Triple-A pitchers for the duration and still make the postseason, and nobody should really care. They’re incredibly good in all facets and will be when the crapshoot of the playoffs shows equal indifference to all origin stories.
And top to bottom, the Cubs have everything to outpace the Brewers and to even Al Powell the Karl in Die Hard that is the St. Louis Cardinals.
Come October, we’ll again conveniently forget the pit sweats over this and refocus our worries on the immediacy of a playoff series. And blowing off homework for a weekend and sleepwalking through the fait accompli of the NL West won’t matter, because you know your kid is capable of turning in homework and waking the hell up.
And then the Cubs and Dodgers won Tuesday night, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so bad among their respective fan bases. In regular-season baseball, the good get to be bad sometimes without any greater meaning.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.