“This is it! This is it! It’s two, they’re gonna turn two! Eeeaaaaaahhhhhhh!” The moment the ball was hit to Russell, I jumped outta my chair, screamin’ like a banshee. I don’t really know what a banshee is, but it’s gotta be loud and somewhat unhinged. (That would make my sister in law a banshee.) I bear hugged the missus who was already workin’ on a full set of raccoon eyes. If I was a woman, or Johnny Depp, I woulda had ’em too, cuz I realized she wasn’t the only one cryin’. That’s what happened at the Schlombowski household Saturday night. And I’ll tell ya … except for the Swedish Bikini team servin’ me beers without their bikini’s, blubberin’ like a newborn was the last thing I expected to happen. I guess the Cubs going to the Series means more to me than I thought it did … And believe me, I thought it would mean one helluva lot.
More than anything else, I feel gratitude towards Mr Ricketts who, as the Cubs owner, sorta takes a back seat to Theo, Jed and Joe in terms of getting credit for puttin’ this club together. But if it weren’t for Mr Ricketts, none of those guys would be here and, in all likelihood, our season woulda been over by the mid-season classic, like usual. So … thank you, Mr Ricketts. On the 10 million to 1 chance that you’re readin’ this, I want you to know how grateful I am that you brought Major League Baseball to Wrigley Field. Yeah, there’s always been some sorta reasonable or unreasonable facsimile, but until you started signin’ the checks, it’s never been anything like this. Thank you for givin’ so much joy to so many people who have patiently waited for so very, very long. We do, however, need a sit down about concession prices, my friend.
Full disclosure: I was more than skeptical at times over the last 5 years. 55 seasons of nothin’ will do that to a Cubs fan. So for me, bringin’ in Theo wasn’t an instantaneous Kyle Schwarber moon shot. Not that I didn’t wet myself with excitement when Theo first signed. I mean he came with the Red Sox miracle on his resumé, which was huge. Still, it took a while before all the ingredients started to come together. That’s when the intoxicating aroma of Theo stew with Maddon sauce started wafting out over Wrigleyville, and I realized that Mr Ricketts was really baseball’s Charlie Trotter. So sue me if I’m a little slow on the uptake. Nobody except Javi Baez is perfect, pal.
“Try not to suck.” That was the mantra this year. A Joe Maddonism that’s Yogi-esque in its utter simplicity and purity. And the Cubs lived up to every bit of it. They did not and do not suck, my friend. The same can’t be said for the Dodgers. Sorry, it may be unsportsmanlike to kick your opponent when he’s down, but somethin’ has got to be said about what happened to the Dodgers and their messiah, Clayton Kershaw.
Hey there, ice chips. How ’bout those friggin’ Cubs, huh?! I gotta tell ya, I luuuuuuvvvvv flyin’ the playoff W. I’d say it makes me feel like I’m on top of the world but that’s kinda stupid. I mean think about it. First — SPOILER ALERT — there’s no Santa Claus up there and second, it’s butt ass cold. It’d be a lot more accurate to say I’m feelin’ like I’m sittin’ on a clothing-optional beach in Bora Bora, the missus has exercised her option, and is feedin’ me pork sliders while I sip on a frosty Old Style. Yeah, that about captures it. Thank you for that, Cubbies.
Anyway, as the Central Division Champs are makin’ their way to the city of whackadoos for Game 3 against the Giants, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the meaning of the oldest phrase in baseball: Keep your eye on the friggin’ ball.
Lemme start by sayin’ that anyone who pays attention to my microscopic corner of the Cubs universe knows that I live and die with them. If that’s you, 1) thank you for payin’ attention and 2) you know that my 55 seasons have seen a whole lot more dyin’ than livin’. That’s given me a certain … let’s say … perspective. I tend to call it like I see it, rather than wearin’ Cubbie blue shaded glasses. Sometimes the Schlombowski forecast is “cloudy with a chance of losing.” Hey, I don’t make the weather, pal, I just report it.
Don’t get me wrong. I not only think the Cubs are in the driver’s seat right now, I think the Giants have been stuffed into the trunk and are about to get dumped on the side of a dark, winding road out in the middle of the redwoods.
IF they keep their eye on the ball, that is.
And I don’t mean pickin’ up the rotation on Bumgarner’s cheese and watchin’ it all the way to the plate. What I mean is that bein’ up 2-0 to the Giants, even in a best-of-5 series, isn’t a Labron James better-get-the-hell-outta-my-way slam dunk, unless we do one thing: stay focused on the ball that matters — winnin’ the World Series. To me, that mean’s not actin’ like we just won the friggin’ lottery cuz the first two games went our way, or cuz our pitchers have turned into Babe Ruth, or cuz Wood just penned his name in the record books. The Cubs gotta go about their business like they’re mailmen or something. You know … that whole “neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night” thing. Only with us it’s “Neither Mad-Bum, nor Posey, nor wicked line drives off our pitchers will keep us from our appointed victory over the Halloween-colored San Francisco Giants.” Do I think that’s gonna happen? You bet your sweet ivy-covered ass I do. Do I think it’s gonna be easy? Read on, my friend:
I just read Steve Rosenbloom’s piece in the Trib, where he says “Kyle Hendricks is pitching like Jake Arrieta with a learner’s permit.” His words exactly … all the way down to the imitation road-to-the-White-House snarkiness. I’m not quite certain why he felt compelled to say that about the Cubs’ best pitcher, but the piece reads like Rosenbloom keeps a life size blow up from Arrieta’s ESPN The Magazine spread push-pinned to his bedroom ceiling.
To be fair, Rosenbloom does point out that Hendricks is “pretty close” to Arrieta in a number of stats, and that he “pitches efficiently and quickly” and has a brilliant changeup. He’s also actually makin’ an argument in an “excuse me” kinda way for why Hendricks oughta win the Cy Young this year. But man, you gotta read between the Arrieta syrup to tell. Almost every paragraph compares Hendricks to Jake, one statistic after another. And, hey … I wouldn’t have an issue with that at all except for this: Rosenbloom is crunchin’ this year’s Hendricks numbers against Arrieta’s last year. Is that kosher? Not in the Schlombowski deli, it’s not. That’s just a large, economy-size serving of twisted statistical crap with no pickle on the side. It’s the same kinda shady comparison tactics used by this year’s vermin-like presidential candidates. You might wanna just hang onto that $50 Pulitzer entry fee on this one, Steve.
This apples and oranges way of evaluating the effectiveness of anyone is beneath someone of Rosenbloom’s journalistic achievements. I mean, we could just as easily compare the 2016 Arrieta against the ’73 Tom Seaver, the ’00 Pedro Martinez, the ’69 Bob Gibson (among others) and paint a picture that makes Jake look like the bat boy. Hey, I got an idea, Steve, why don’t we put the 2016 Hendricks up against the 2013 Arrieta? Or the 2012 version. Or 2011 or ’10. The only true, honest, level-playin’-field comparison between these two hurlers this year is lookin’ at this season’s numbers. You do that and the balance tips in Hendricks’s favor. Plus, there’s no arguing the fact that Hendricks has picked up a lotta the slack created by Jake misplacin’ his cape this year. That’s not to say he hasn’t had a solid year … he has. But it wasn’t the other-worldly thing he conjured up last year, as you’ll read in Rosenbloom’s piece.
Hendricks came outta Spring Training desperately clingin’ to the 5th starter role, while Jake was struttin’ around Ho Ho Kam like the Cy Young winner he is. I woulda too, if I was him. And for the first couple a months of the season I’d have sworn we were watchin’ instant replay of the second half of 2014. In fact, it wasn’t until Arrieta started chatterin’ about a $250M contract that the wheels started wobblin’ on his wagon. Coincidence? I tend to think focusing on money 2 years before your contract is up puts demons between your ears, which is especially bad for pitchers cuz they’re often borderline head cases already. He seems to have found his cape again, though. Which is good for everyone except whoever the Cubs face in the playoffs.
The fact is, the entire rotation has been mostly great, most of the season. And, with Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta we’ve got 3 of the most dominant pitchers in baseball. But Hendricks has gone from 5th starter to being the man behind the wheel … and it hasn’t been with a friggin’ learner’s permit.