Chicago Cubs: Don’t hit that panic button just yet – it’s still early

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) /

At .500 through the season’s first 12 games, the Chicago Cubs have underwhelmed out of the gates. But it’s still far too early to panic.

After dropping two of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs’ 2018 season is off to, well, a pretty lackluster loss. The offense has been hot and cold – evidenced this week when the bats hung 13 runs on the Pirates only to manage a lone tally in the finale.

Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ accounted for five of the team’s seven hits. The former blasted his  third home run of the season, raising his average to .270. Happ, meanwhile, continues his hit-or-miss start in his first full Major League campaign.

The bullpen’s dominant run came to a screeching halt Thursday, when Justin Wilson walked three and allowed a pair of home runs. That showing turned a 2-1 game into a lopsided 6-1 contest late – and saw Wilson’s ERA climb north of 6.00 on the year.

More from Cubbies Crib

Chicago’s continued struggles with runners in scoring position were on full display, as well. The Cubs went hitless in their seven at-bats with runners in scoring position on the afternoon. It’s not that the team didn’t have a chance to flip the script – it’s that they repeatedly failed to deliver under pressure.

Entering Friday’s series opener against Atlanta, Chicago owns a .197 average with RISP. That ranks as the second-lowest mark in the entire National League, besting only the San Francisco Giants. Despite that, though, the Cubs have scored the fourth-most runs in the league.

Earlier this week, we touched on how 2016 set unrealistic expectations in fans’ minds. The Cubs tore out of the gates, throttling opponents from April till October on a near-daily basis. But people forget. Chicago’s improbable run to the 2015 NLCS started from a dark, dark place. How a team starts does not define how it finishes – at least not always.

Above .500 with their fair share of struggles

Three years ago, a new era dawned. Jon Lester took the ball on Opening Night against St. Louis. We all believed Joe Maddon, at the helm of his new ball club, would lead us to the Promised Land … at some point.

The first three games of the year came and went in historic fashion. The words I used in April 2015, I believe, were ‘historically bad.’ Why? In those three contests, Cubs hitters slashed .140/.224/.198. The team’s run production ranked as the franchise’s worst since the 103-loss 1962 Cubs. But, unlike now, fans had no expectations and rolled with the punches.

As we now know, this team broke the ‘Lovable Loser’ label en route to a Wild Card berth and eventual NLDS win over the Cardinals. And, while they won at a torrid pace down the stretch, it was this team’s ability to avoid digging their own grave that made them so potent.

The 2015 Cubs never fell more than one game below .500. This club never saw first place past early April – but they stayed in the fight while they figured out their identity as a team. And once that happened, they quickly became a dangerous wild card in the postseason hunt.

Looking back at last season

We’ll skip over 2016. It’s been covered nonstop for the last 18 months. That team started hot. Finished hot. And won it all. On the heels of that World Series championship, the dreaded World Series hangover hit.

Chicago managed a 13-11 month of April. But a 12-16 May sounded the alarms with pretty much every fan. Especially those who started supporting the team roughly six months prior, when millions of fans flocked to the Windy City for the celebration parade and rally.

But, under Maddon, these teams always keep things on an even keel. At one point, the Cubs fell 5 1/2 games out of first. But they never dug a hole too deep to climb out of. And, in the second half, the offense came to life and Chicago ran off some truly dominant performances en route to another NL Central crown.

Next: Maddon happy team is there to support Javy

The difference between these two seasons? Fans’ expectations. Divisions aren’t won and lost in the first 12 games of a campaign. The Cubs’ uneven performance so far in 2018 is enough to frustrate anyone, sure. But to act like the team is 2-10 and already eliminated from postseason consideration is absurd.

This team has seen worse days. Things will be fine. Remember that.