Before the season started, if you told Chicago Cubs fans that their team would lose in the Wild Card game, they’d be ecstatic. Tell them they’d lose in the first round to the St. Louis Cardinals and they’d find a way to be happy about that, too. Tell them the Cubs were going to lose in the NLCS? They’d be selling first-borns.
But that was all with the expectations that the Cubs entered the season with–none. Maybe they finish .500 or sneak a couple games over. They couldn’t escape expectations forever. Those expectations came at the start of the NLCS.
When it comes to expectations, they’re learning the hard way.
The Cubs won 97 games, but there was never a shot at the division because the St. Louis Cardinals were too damn good. Going to the Wild Card was cool, but it was just one game so expectations never grew too high.
Even after winning the Wild Card game they still had to beat their big brother who bullied them every year and won 100 games this year. For most, beating the Cardinals wasn’t an expectation. They’re the Cardinals.
But then they did. The Cubs not only beat the Cardinals, but beat them in four games, winning both starts made by Kyle Hendricks and Jason Hammel.
Their prize? The New York Mets, who the Cubs were 7-0 against during the regular season and who didn’t have starting pitchers named Greinke and Kershaw.
Somehow, the Cubs were expected to make the World Series.
Well, the Mets are now up 3-0, and because of expectations it’s because the Cubs have collapsed. Choked. Meltdown.
In reality, the Mets might just be better.
It’s true, and it’s a concept that seems foreign to a fan-base that all of a sudden lost that positive vibe they carried with them all season. It’s the vibe I suppose you can have when you’re in third place (with the third-best record in baseball) with such a young team. When things go well, it’s great. When things don’t go well, it’s okay too because you can take a step back and breathe.
There is no breathing in the playoffs. Not for Cubs fans.
The Cubs offense isn’t in a meltdown. Sometimes, when an offense doesn’t hit, it has something to do with the other team’s pitcher.
Matt Harvey is really good. There’s a reason so many people care about his innings limit and right elbow–he’s an ace. Noah Syndergaard is really good, especially at home. In Citi Field this season, he’s 7-2 with a 2.46 ERA and 8.60 strikeouts for every walk. Jacob deGrom is really good. He won NL Rookie of the Year last season and will receive Cy Young votes this year.
Sometimes that has more to do than BABIP and an umpire’s strike zone.
The Cubs aren’t doing themselves any favors in the field, at the plate or on the mound. But that should’ve been expected, or at least not surprising, at some point.
Plenty of damage was done this season by Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, two players that many didn’t think would factor into the MLB plans until 2016–and beyond for Schwarber.
Kris Bryant is a rookie, and despite his impressive season he’s subject to slumps just like every single other rookie. Jorge Soler is 23 and in his first full season in the big leagues. Javier Baez was thrust into a bigger role because of Russell’s injury. He’s 22.
The point being, we’ve seen so much of their good side that Cubs fans sometimes forget that they’re rookies. They go through slumps and struggles, and that’s without giving the credit due to the Mets, which they deserve plenty of.
For the Cubs, they had two options. They could’ve missed the playoffs like they were expected to, or they could overachieve in a sense and come together quicker than expected and make the NLCS. It shouldn’t be a criticism that they don’t have a reliable starting pitcher after Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, because we already knew that.
It was no secret the Cubs were a starting pitcher away–‘away’ used to mean from the playoffs–and that starting pitcher would likely arrive via free agency prior to the 2016 season.
It’s no secret that the Cubs offense can go into slumps and create a wind tunnel from whiffs. We knew that, too.
But because we didn’t know that the Cubs would get this far, it was easier to understand.
If you want to get frustrated, get frustrated next year when the team will have actual expectations. Don’t get frustrated this year by a team that surprised everyone along the way to get to this point.
Ironically, the Cubs are back to having zero expectations. No one expects them to win Game 4, and if they do, no one expects them to win the series. They might lose Game 4, they might lose Game 7, they might win the next four. But when people tell you how bad the Cubs are and how they broke everyone’s heart, use your brain and your eyes to understand the reality of the situation.
The Cubs might not be better than the Mets, and that’s okay. Even if it doesn’t make a loss feel any better.