Runs of Anarchy: The Cubs’ Streaky Season

Through 140 games, the Cubs have played with all the consistency of under-cooked eggs. In fact, the only real consistency with the Cubs this season has been their lack of it.

There have been times this season when the Cubs have looked like a well-oiled machine and others during which they’ve resembled a dumpster fire. Accordingly, assessments of the team have ranged from sugary optimism that flowed with the cloying viscosity of molasses or 10W-30 to acidic vitriol thrown on the blaze like verbal accelerant.

A 9-17 record through April to start the season did nothing to allay fears that this might be a 100-loss team, particularly when that 26-game stretch included losing streaks of both 4 and 5. The Cubs didn’t win consecutive games until April 21st and 22nd against the Diamondbacks.

While May started better, with back-to-back wins over the Cardinals, it ended up playing  out much like its predecessor. That’s because after those early W’s, the Cubs went on to drop 10 of their next 12, eventually finishing the month at 11-16. Two months in and already they were 13 games under .500. Sounds about right.

But then came June, the Cubs’ first winning frame in 2014. And while 15-13 wouldn’t normally be the kind of record that gets people excited, that’s exactly how people were feeling around Wrigley. A 5-game winning streak that included a sweep of the Mets early in the month and a win in Fenway to close it? Hey, where do I sign up for the bandwagon.

And the happy train just kept right on a-rollin’ as the Cubs swept the Red Sox and took the first game in their series in DC to push their streak to 4 games. And then, as if to prove to all of us that, yes, these are still the Cubs, they proceeded to drop 6 straight and 8 of 10 to close out the first half.

It’s probably no coincidence that the start of that slide came after the big trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, two of the core pieces of the Cubs’ rotation and guys upon whom some had begun to build hope for the future. Whether it was the loss of 40% of the rotation or the fallout from all the media scrutiny, the Cubs looked like a rudderless ship in the aftermath of the deal.

Following on the heels of the swoon leading into the All-Star break, the Cubs opened the second half by going 2-7. Excuse me for a moment while I remove my socks to tally that up…looks like 4-15 in the 19 games following the Cubs dumping the Shark. That’s, uh, not good.

But then, wonder of wonders, the Cubs started to play good baseball. Starting with a win over the Rockies on July 28th, they have gone 22-15, which includes recent sweeps of both the Orioles and the Brewers. That stands in stark contrast to the previous 19-game stretch, in which they compiled the same number of losses.

When the season started, I’d have said that 70 wins would be a pretty reasonable total for this team, and that’s without assuming that they’d have traded their best pitcher and starting CF. They also had the gall to trade yet another diminutive, light-hit-heavy-grit middle infielder away, something I thought for sure would result in the team’s utter collapse.

But despite the loss of Barney, the team bravely soldiered on and, gasp, even got better. Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada have filled in the rotation gaps admirably, actually outperforming their predecessors in most regards. And despite his flagging average, Javier Baez has brought something Darwin Barney never could: excitement.

Even with the losses of their two All-Star representatives, the Cubs are on pace to easily eclipse the 70-win mark. But if you’re pulling out your weapons of maths instruction and trying to figure out the chances of getting to .500, I think you can go ahead and stop.

With 22 games left in the season, the Cubs will need to go 17-5 in order to break even. No way, Jorge. If that happens, I’ll take a video of myself sauteing and eating my shoe. But there’s no reason to believe this team can’t get to 75 wins. And while that might not be cause for celebration, it could move the Cubs ahead of the Reds. And that’s a start, right?

Not finishing last is a small victory, but just the fact that the Cubs are trying to win games at this point in the season is a big step in the right direction. No longer are they making moves to position themselves for the best possible draft in order to add an impact piece for a few years down the road.

Of course, it’s also entirely possible that the Cubs finish the season with another tailspin, falling back into a top-5 pick. But it appears at this point that the organization now considers momentum at the major league level to be more important than, or at least of equal importance to, the growth of the minor league talent pool.

So here’s to hoping months like June and August soon become the norm, and that we can stop getting excited about the team actually having a winning record over a given 30-day period.

September is already shaping up to be a good one, and the Cubs could still be streaking when they face division rival Cincinnati in a few days. Maybe the Reds can bring their green hats.

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