While the Cubs and baseball have always been my first love, I’ve rotated through the Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks as they all spent time as the best at their sport. I grew up in the Mike Ditka era, and I join many Chicago sports fans in appreciating “fire.” Sometimes a good tantrum is elevated to near-mythical status.

This phenomenon has to do, at least in part, with the Ditka era. Those Bears teams under him were fierce, and even when they weren’t winning championships, they played a fighting style that didn’t make them an expected opponent. The team had a lot of wins in the mid to late 80’s. The fire misses the point. That team had a lot of future Hall of Famers. Those teams won because they had a lot of talent, more than the average team. Maybe despite that crazy guy on the sidelines?

Lee Elia has the honor of being the Cubs manager. But people of a certain age can imagine or hear the rants of managers like Don Zimmer, Tom Trebelhorn, and Lou Pinella. The list is endless, of course. The nature of baseball is that the kettle often boils over on the stove. Zimmer had one brilliant season as Cubs manager in a long and storied career. Pinella had a few very good seasons as Cubs manager. Elia and Trebelhorn were not good for much of it. The Cubs generally struggled under all those managers, and even under managers like Dusty Baker, who were not exactly known for their theatrics.

Saturday afternoon, Justin Steele had the meltdown that so many of us felt deep inside. This team is annoying. To be clear, I don’t think they’re a great team. Injuries have taken their toll, that’s for sure. But even with the injuries, most days they seem like a team that should be more competitive. So we can all appreciate the fire that Steele showed. At that moment, he was most of us. He means well. I’m glad he didn’t back down too far. The frustration is justified.

Fire and brimstone aren’t exactly effective motivators. I’m certainly one to boil over from time to time. I haven’t found it to be particularly effective. Generally, the most likely effect I’ve seen is that people are a little nervous about being around you, because they’re afraid they’re getting too close to the next meltdown and being collateral damage. It can also damage your reputation. It’s hard not to come across as both cartoonish and out of control.

The Cubs won the “Steele” game. Now they’ve lost two. Is it because he failed to get the team fired up? No. It’s because this team just isn’t that good at this point. I have faith that this group of players should be better than they are. Without writing a post mortem in the first week of July on a season that runs into September, this team seems to be all set.

There’s certainly time for a U-turn. It’s just hard to see what that change would entail. Are these bats going to suddenly show up? Are they ever going to find a formula to cover the last six outs in a close game? Eventually, even if things turn around, you’re going to be fighting an uphill battle against math that’s trying to reverse the carnage.

On Tuesday night, the Cubs lost 6-4 to the National League class. The game wasn’t nearly as close as that score indicated. But Jose Ruiz, who has been very effective for the Phillies this year, just didn’t have it. Two singles and a home run to the three batters he faced. Before that outburst, the offense managed two hits and two walks. So it wasn’t just all the runs that came in the ninth inning, it was almost all the offensive production.

Hayden Wesneski got another start and gave up two more home runs. He’s allowing them at a breakneck pace and I just don’t know how long this team can justify letting him start if they think they can get back in the game. Of course, when you realize the ship has sailed and you’re working toward next year, the math changes. In that scenario, you better see if you can get your act together. Whether it’s pitch tipping, sequencing issues, whatever, you want to figure it out. He’s obviously talented, but it’s just not working.

Five runs in five innings isn’t enough. Two hits and two walks in eight innings isn’t enough. There are no magic buttons to turn that equation into a win. The bullpen allowed one run in four innings of work. It was almost all low leverage, but it seemed like everyone was doing well there. Even Colten Brewer’s one run in two innings isn’t a disaster. Relievers are held to a standard of perfection by definition because of the nature of their role. But one run every two innings is right in line with the minimum qualifying quality start. That line is the baseline for “okay.” It’s not going to win you fame and fortune. But it’s not going to take your team out of the game, either.

The net result? Not good. But you wouldn’t have expected anything less against this opponent if you’re honest.

Let’s look at three positive points.

  1. Seiya Suzuki had a couple of hits, one of which was a three-run homer. He can’t be criticized for what was going on around him.
  2. Cody Bellinger seems to have some of the same issues that Ian Happ had last year. While Happ ended up hitting career highs, the frustration halfway through the season was that he was getting on base well, but not producing much slugging. He was more of a table setter than a run producer. Cody has that problem. Not much slugging, but some table setting. A single, double, a run batted in, and a run scoring. He’s been fairly productive, but not what you’d want at his price point or outside of the third spot in the lineup that he normally occupies.
  3. Jorge Lopez needed just three batters to record his second scoreless outing as a Cub.

Game 86, July 2: Phillies 6, Cubs 4 (39-47)

Fan Charts

Please note: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.

THREE HEROES:

  • Superhero: Cody Bellinger (.088). 2-4, 2B, RBI, R
  • Hero: Tomas Nido (.027). 0-1, BB
  • Helper: Seiya Suzuki (.022). 2-4, HR, 3 RBI, R

THREE GOATS:

  • Goat: Hayden Wesneski (-.254). 5 IP, 23 batters, 5 H, 3 BB, 5 R, 7 K (L 2-5)
  • Goat: Ian Happ (-.128). 0-4
  • Child: Christopher Morel (-.081). 0-4

WPA Gameplay: Garrett Stubbs hit a two-run double with one out in the second inning for the first two runs of the game. (.124)

*Cubs Game: Cody Bellinger’s two-out RBI double in the third inning cut the lead to two. (.099)

Cubs Player of the Game:

Survey

Who was voted the Cubs’ best player?

This poll is closed

  • 11%

    Cody Bellinger

    (17 votes)

  • 6%

    Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)

    (10 votes)


144 votes in total

Vote now

Sunday’s winner: Nico Hoerner received 74 of the 130 votes. Ethan Roberts second with 24.

Cumulative Rizzo Award Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)

The award is named after Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in the category three of the first four years it existed and four times in total. He also had the highest season total ever with +65.5. The points scale is three points for a superhero down to -3 points for a Billy Goat.

  • Michael Busch +13
  • Shota Imanaga +11.5
  • Ben Brown +11
  • Jameson Taillon +9
  • Seiya Suzuki +8.5
  • Hayden Wesneski -6.5
  • Adbert Alzolay/Miguel Amaya -10
  • Kyle Hendricks -13
  • Christopher Morel -13.5

*Bellinger to +5, Nido to -4, Suzuki in top five with +8.5. Wesneski in bottom five with -6.5, Happ out of top five with +8, Morel drops to last place with -13.5.

Next one: The second of three with the Phillies. Shōta Imanaga (7-2, 3.07) starts for the Cubs. Zack Wheeler (9-4, 2.73) for the Phils. The best matchup the Cubs will see in the series.