The Cubs, much like last year, seem surrounded by paranoia (self destroyah') and rumors. They haven't sprinted out of the gate as they did in '16--which they will seemingly be measured against from here on out--and hence there a good sized section of the fanbase that's in a tizzy. 25-6 doesn't happen every season. Look no farther than the Dodgers for proof. And while I'm sure most players avoid reading websites and listening to the radio, they probably can't help but notice what the reporters who are with them every day keep asking about. And given the size of the Cubs media contingent, it would be impossible to ignore. And the reaction of the fans during the game must play a role as well.
I was at Wrigley on Wednesday night when Addison Russell came up in a big spot. One out, runners on second and third, Cubs down just one. He struck out against Andrew Miller, and didn't look good doing it. That tends to happen against Miller when he's healthy, which admittedly he hasn't been much this year. Usually, not a big deal. But there were a noticeable amount of groans, bordering on boos for Russell.
You know where it comes from. The name "Machado" has graced the dreams of most Cubs fans, and it's Russell whom they've already moved out in that fantasy. He hasn't had a very good season, though with his improved May it's just about what he's always been. But certainly Addison has noticed being asked about being in trade rumors again, and certainly he can hear that reaction. You can't help but wonder if he's pressing or off because of it.
Kris Bryant addressed something similar earlier in the week. While we may be disappointed or slightly worried about the Cubs' start, that wouldn't be prudent policy within the clubhouse. He was asked about it, and he said that though he doesn't read the papers and such he can't help but notice the questions he's being asked on a daily basis. So they're aware of the feeling outside the walls. At some point that has to creep inside them.
Jared today had a Q&A with Buster Olney, which is great stuff. In it, Olney talks about how some guys he knows in Texas told him how much Yu Darvish cares about what his teammates think of him. That's not abnormal. Throw in the size of his contract and the expectations around here, and you can see where the pressure might be suffocating for him. Maybe it's why he's gone away from some of his pitches. When he was comfortable, maybe he was more willing to use pitches that he didn't have quite the same feel for. Now that there's added desperation, he only wants to throw what he has the utmost feel for and confidence in. How do you find that balance? It's easy from here, where we tend to treat players like strat cards. But that's not how life works.
Certainly, that's part of the deal now with playing for the Cubs. It's not much different than being in Boston or New York. You get to play for a winner, but the scrutiny and pressure is just going to be different from media and fans. And with the most memorable of seasons still very fresh, everything is going to be compared to that for now. So if you're not 25-6, something is wrong. And there's not much to be done. We can't make all fans calm down and we can't ask the media to not ask questions that people do want the answers to. There's only a couple yahoos in that contingent, and I won't be personally attacking anyone today because I'm still burned out from yesterday. It's not Boston where every one with a press pass is out for blood.
And the other thing with the Cubs is they dominate the landscape by themselves. No other team in Chicago does that, and it'll stay that way until the Sox turnaround is complete and even then it might. The Bears always have the Cubs now, or Hawks, or Bulls, to distract some of it. Ditto the other teams before the Cubs head to spring training. But the summer in this city, which sports-wise basically began in April, the Cubs are the only thing. It's a pressure-cooker. And not surprisingly, it's going to swallow some people up.