Crappy Division Only Thing Keeping Cubs’ Hope Alive Right Now

Whatever helps keep your hope alive, just know, it doesn’t matter.Jake Arrieta

Both the headline and the epigraph are a bit melodramatic in terms of where the Cubs sit at the 50-game mark, but little about their recent play suggests they’re anything better than a middling team in a bad division. More than the young pitching talent in the minors or the power display from Christopher Morel, being part of the NL Central is just about the only thing we can point to right now as a source of optimism.

They have been blown out in consecutive games, the latest of which was a 9-0 shellacking that gave them their first shutout of the year, yet they lost no ground to the Brewers. Milwaukee has also lost two in a row and holds a slim margin over the Pirates. The Cardinals and Reds are a half-game behind the Cubs, so it’s entirely possible that the North Siders could finish the weekend in the basement.

Would that make it a finished basement?

On the other hand, the Cubs could put themselves in striking distance of the top spot by simply avoiding the need to wear North Shore adult diapers. Sounds like an easy enough task, right? You’ll be okay if you just don’t piss down your leg four times a week.

They sloshed around in a puddle Friday afternoon, however, flailing helplessly at Hunter Greene‘s offerings while Justin Steele limped to his worst start of the year. The lefty’s incendiary performance was hot enough to melt beams and erase most of the evidence from a poorly-constructed lineup that wasn’t built to attack Greene’s massive reverse splits in the first place. As such, David Ross avoided the ire that would have been directed his way had the loss been more competitive.

It’s not often you root for your team to be blown out, but that might have been the best result when it comes to avoiding second-guessing. After all, making Javier Assad wear it to an extent there at the end is better than making the “wrong” call to the bullpen and having people wonder why a particular reliever couldn’t hold a scoreless tie.

Watching the whole team go hitless for most of the game washed away questions about why the hell Mike Tauchman was batting third or why three lefties were stacked together at the bottom. Then there’s the general absence of Edwin Ríos, who I keep forgetting is still on the team because he’s gotten only three plate appearances since being recalled on May 19. That’s less than one trip to the plate every other game, not exactly the best way to help a guy develop any sort of rhythm.

Not that Ríos getting more run would change the Cubs’ fortunes in any meaningful way, but he stands as a strong example of what appears from the outside to be suboptimal roster construction and utilization. All I can figure is that he’s being viewed as an expendable placeholder who the organization doesn’t really care to develop. There are only so many at-bats to go around and you don’t want a prospect languishing on the bench, so Ríos rides the pine as a living sacrifice.

The thing about the Cubs is that they aren’t as bad as what we’re seeing in May and they’re not as good as what we saw in April. They can be a solid ballclub when they put everything together on a consistent basis, but that’s like saying a frog with wings wouldn’t bump its ass when it hopped. Except the Cubs do have wings in this case because the NL Central is a Harrison Bergeron dystopia in which everyone is playing with multiple handicaps.

My kingdom for a stretch of hot play that makes this column look more foolish than most of them I put out, for a series or three that pushes the Cubs back in the conversation and changes the tone in the peanut gallery. That would be nice.

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