The First Hundred
Sturm und Drang is a phrase that neatly sums 2019 up. Turmoil surrounds a team that is mere percentage points behind first place in a virtual tie. Drang is most commonly translated as urge, but the title of the literary movement starting in the late 18th century was often translated as storm and stress. Some translate drang more exactly as drive in this context. Each works well to describe the past six games that an off day allows reflection upon.
The Cubs scraped together a road series win against a fading Pittsburgh squad. There are so many neat storylines to be told after a see-saw road trip that accomplished the bare minimum for a team with playoff aspirations. The Cubs started a ten game road odyssey with a 3.5 game lead but continued the banana peel slipping contest that is the NL Central division chase another fortnight. So stress might be the best definition of drang after all.
There is no way to describe the events of the past week as anything but stress. The Cubs back to back bullpen meltdowns were near cardiac event inducing traumas. The team found all sorts of ways to lose sixty percent of the games on an eastern trip through the rust belt. The club continued to confound as the streak of road series defeats and draws stretched to twelve.
The Cubs were swept for just the second time through that odds defying near three months of play. The Cubs split that number of series as well, but the inability to win back to back games until the exclamation point victory on Sunday was frustrating. There is nothing more nerve racking than a bad bullpen and the Cubs depleted relief corps provided more than enough moments needing the antacid that used to sponsor an annual reliever award than performances worthy of being nominated for said award. The series sweep at the hands of the Phillies and series opening loss to the Pirates might have been the worst two regular season games I've seen back to back, and I am not that interested in finding out if that is objectively true.
Timing is key and the Cubs found the precisely most intense moments to apply stress as the team blew multiple wins. It could have been the moment this team reestablished its dominance over the division. Instead a confluence of failures occurred at different times or all at once whether it was defense, relievers, starters and or the lineup. Each could be counted on to revert to its worst form in a key moment helping to snatch defeats from the jaws of victory time and again.
In the comments I off-handedly snarked that the Cubs lacked the fight of a Klingon. As an insult it is almost too geeky to bear repeating. And I folded instantly upon making the comment because I never truly believed in it. There is nothing that makes a team look more dead than a slumping lineup, and the offenses failure to show up against more than one pitcher on the road swing makes it an easy assessment. And it is true that it is hard to look like a team with fight as 26 or 27 of 29 batters turn back to the dugout immediately.
The Cubs did mount multiple comebacks on the road trip. Kris Bryant even delivered go ahead homers in the seventh inning or later for the third and fourth time this season. Tony Kemp's triple against Francisco Vázquez should enter into Cubs lore like Taylor Teagarden's single off Aroldis Chapman. Unfortunately the bullpen failed in spectacular fashion with Brandon Kintzler's suboptimal debut off the injured list on Friday.
And yet the drive of this team was clear on Saturday when Jon Lester once again willed this team to victory. The defense let him down a couple of times, but Jon Lester bailed his teammates out unlike several other points on recent road trips. Bryant then had the chance for redemption with another late go-ahead blast. The combination of Tyler Chatwood and Rowan Wick slammed the door on a stress inducing victory that proved especially sweet given the recent pangs of collapse.
The urge is to tell a feel good story about how the Little League Classic gave the Cubs a chance to have fun. A chance to breathe once again as every part of the team came together. Well nearly. The defense of Kris Bryant looked poor once again, but the fact that these were such glaringly bad two games is a positive sign. And the tune up work of Craig Kimbrel and Pedro Strop raised at least a few caution flags for future results.
In the end though it was such an utterly complete game from beginning to almost very end of the game. Once again Jose Quintana provided a huge outing in a much needed situation. The seven shutout innings were not perhaps his statistically finest game, but they provided innings where the Pirates were kept off the board in a game the Cubs needed as much as a single regular season game could be needed. The offense also provided the long ball and stringing hits together for the old fashioned in the park game.
Craig Kimbrel's outing was good once you get past the Marte blast. Kimbrel grooved a fastball of some unknown velocity right over the heart of the plate and Starling Marte was ready to destroy a teed up pitch. Afterwards Kimbrel was great. A curve spiked into Cole Tucker's foot was the only blemish in his 2/3 inning of work. Kimbrel worked ahead of every batter he faced, and if the game had been a 2-1 ballgame at that point he would have likely been allowed to finish it. Instead Pedro Strop gave up some contact, but managed to get an out before another run crossed the plate. The bullpen is getting health, and that will be a huge boon for the club.
The urge will be to write about how the Cubs were able to relax. There is some truth to it as there are many accounts of trying too hard. Gripping the bat too tight and how counter productive that extra effort can be at times. This club is starting to come back to life and hopefully the season trend of home field excellence continues with the slate of six games starting tomorrow. The Cubs will have some difficult opponents to make hay against, but the trend all season has been to build a small division lead during these home field stretches. Here is to the Cubs having an urge to avoid the stress caused by a poor homestand and continue to drive through the opposition at the Friendly Confines.
Reminder on the First and Third Monday (hey that's today) of the Month
If you haven't signed up for Jared Wyllys' newsletter yet, you are missing out. The second installment arrived in my email this morning, and it was another enjoyable installment to start my day reading. Jared has scheduled these newsletters to arrive on the first and third Monday every week. Here is a link to subscribe if you still haven't done so.
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