Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon pointed to his team’s travel and schedule recently as a culprit in their slow start. He’s probably on to something.
Had everything gone according to plan for the Chicago Cubs, the season’s first month still would have been far from easy. Taking on the likes of the St. Louis Cardinals, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees right out of the gates isn’t an enviable position to find oneself in.
But that’s the hand the reigning World Series champions were dealt. And, to be frank, it did not go as hoped. Several rain delays, rescheduled games and even an 18-inning contest the night before a trip out west all threw Chicago out-of-whack.
Joe Maddon pointed out as much – and immediately drew the ire of Cubs fans.
"“I sense sleep deprivation more than anything,” Maddon said before the finale against Colorado. “Sleep deprivation has a lot to do with it. Right from the beginning of the year our schedule has been awkward. No one has had a chance to settle in.”"
In April, the Cubs won more than three-straight just one time, taking advantage of matchups against the Reds and Brewers. Those clubs hardly represent the top-caliber talent mentioned above.
Against New York, St. Louis and Boston, Chicago went 3-6. In interleague matchups, the Cubs carry a dismal 1-5 mark – culminating from the Red Sox and Yankees’ series. There’s no disputing the fact the club hasn’t met expectations, let alone exceed them.
But the culprit can be debated – feverishly.
Athletes are people, too
Fans never fail to forget that professional athletes are human beings. They have feelings, stresses and battle through the grind of a 162-game season.
They’re apart from families and loved ones for weeks at a time. All fans seem to see is the dollar amounts on players contract. Making, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars, we develop an unrealistic set of expectations for our favorite teams and players.
Take Jason Heyward, for example. Last season, he was mired in one of the worst slumps of his big-league career. Yet, by all accounts, he came in each and every day with a good attitude, willing to do whatever his team asked of him. All most fans saw was $184 million down the drain – in year one of a near-decade long contract.
"“I don’t think anyone is taking anything for granted,” Maddon said. “I love the word expectations, I do, but on the flip side of that it’s going to be a different path this year. It is. It just has to be. To this point we haven’t pitched nearly as well, as starters. The biggest thing for me is defense. We haven’t caught the ball with the regularity that we normally do. Those were our bedrocks of our performance.”"
Getting back to your roots
Chicago begins a weekend series in St. Louis Friday night against the division-leading Cardinals. Once that wraps up, the Cubs come home for one of their longest homestands of the year: 10 games against division foes.
As Maddon said, the Cubs’ pitching staff hasn’t been near what it was last year. Jake Arrieta is struggling, Brett Anderson is sidelined and it seems like the bats can’t get anything going when Kyle Hendricks pitches.
The club ranks in the bottom half in staff ERA – and the defense has made some uncharacteristic plays recently, as well. Maddon’s not wrong: to win, the team needs to do these things more effectively.
But a nice homestand at Wrigley Field may be exactly what this group needs to find its rhythm and put a rough start to the season behind them.