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Why is the Cubs’ 2018 season worse than 2017?

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Things aren’t working out quite the way it looked like they would. Why?

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Photo illustration: Mike Bojanowski

This Cubs season has largely been a nightmare so far, for many people. And for many different reasons. Sloppy play in all phases. Very frustrating loss scenarios. Down years from some players who were “better last season.” Jake Arrieta being in Philadelphia. This is a look at why some of the people who were much more calm last year, seem to be less so this year.

And I could be all wet in some cases.

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I’m more mystified than upset or frustrated.

Baseball is a game that, if you think you have it figured out, you’re likely overlooking something. The past is the best predictor of the future, but it’s a rather lousy one, on occasion.

Teams that should waltz to the post-season get humbled. Every season has at least a few rather big surprises, even though they don’t necessarily play elimination games in October.

162 games is a long time, and the Cubs have time to right the ship. This is rather obvious.

However, the possibility is looking more real that it might not happen. Or it might be a tougher competition than expected.

The reality is, if the Cubs go 79-83, I’ll be a bit sad, but not distraught.

***

My title for this was going to be “The case for standing pat.” I don’t want the Cubs to fritter prospects on a season that might go nowhere. Particularly until July.

Similarly, they don’t have that many “short-term options” that would be appealing to flip as an “expiring contract.” While I’m very good with standing pat come July, I’m also the one who was willing to trade Wade Davis last July, if the post-All-Star break trip went sideways.

And, yes. I wonder what the return from Washington would have been.

However, Sunday night’s game opened my eyes to a few things I’d been noticing recently.

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For a brief moment, I’ll go back to “the bad years.” From 2011-2014, Cubs fans had plenty to gripe about. Plenty.

And many did.

In reality, some fans seem to follow a team to complain. Some complain reflexively.

For instance, if Jason Heyward ropes a 3-0 pitch with runners on, and the defender makes a sensational play, some will question why he swung at the pitch.

Bad result, hence justifies any complaints.

Those aren’t the people I’m talking about.

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Some fans just realized the Cubs had a team in October in 2017. Or 2016. Or the second of November in 2016.

Again, not my target.

I’m looking at long-time, well-versed MLB fans. They know the game, and may be a bit more analytical or statistically inclined than most.

Some of these people are enraged this week. Kicking and breaking things, mad, it seems.

When things were bleak in 2017, these were the life-preservers on my timeline.

“It’s fine. Things will turn around at some point.”

These are the people that seem very “Why am I even bothering with this (insert word here)” stuff.

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They should know better. They knew better last year.

What changed? And why?

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I’ll toss in another group I’m not talking about here, and I’m about ready for my mini-treatise.

People very upset with the Arrieta “handling” aren’t included either.

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Many of the enraged people write articles. They run blogs. They do research. They ought to know better.

However, they’re livid, or terribly frustrated.

When my assessment hit me, it was very simple. Too simple to be across-the-board-accurate, but I’m rolling with it.

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Why are so many smart Cubs fans so much more angry this season than in 2017?

They have nothing left to complain about.

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In 2017, it was fun to blame John Lackey. Or Brett Anderson . Or Justin Grimm, Hector Rondon, or Miguel Montero. So many puppies to kick.

In 2018, many bloggers have nothing to complain about.

They wanted Tyler Chatwood. Chatwood signed. They wanted Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow. Bam. Yu Darvish? On a platter.

When many of these smart and well-educated fans look for a flaw, it shouldn’t be there. However, it is.

***

It was easy to blame Lackey. Or Edwin Jackson. Now that everything is exactly as desired, since it isn’t working, something is seriously wrong.

Injuries? Maybe a bit. Inconsistency? Hopefully.

The problem may be far more frightening and systemic.

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Imagine a guy who has it all together. Great job. Beautiful wife. Vacations twice a year. The money isn’t a problem.

At some point, he realizes, even though everything is perfect, it isn’t.

It isn’t Ian Happ’s lack of contact. Or Willson Contreras stealing strikes from his pitchers.

Everything has played out as desired, and the team is playing uninspired ball far too often.

Why?

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Many of these same people are big fans of adding “key and quality veterans”. Also, price tag isn’t that big of an issue. After all, you need to pay for quality. One way or another.

The fans who are less frustrated seem to have a bit of a different slant.

Not everything will fit on a Fangraphs chart.

Sometimes, stupid things happen.

I have my own life, anyway.

They likely found solace in the 2012-2014 seasons.

And, perhaps, they were a little bit less “slam dunk” on signing Chatwood/Darvish, and a bit more: “They’re my team and I hope it works, but it isn’t that much of a problem if it doesn’t.”

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The Cubs front office seem to have taken the bait.

No, I’m not supposed to criticize Team Theo. Because I usually agree with them.

However, about now, the Cubs’ finances against the spending levels aren’t that impressive.

Heyward isn’t opting out. Darvish has started wrong, along those lines.

The $197 million luxury tax limit only became a huge issue after the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement passed. And the Cubs are in danger if some of their big money contracts don’t start working.

Most of the people on my Twitter timeline that are more upset this year than last have been all about pushing the spending limits to and beyond the limits. And, of course, many want to go further in hock to get Bryce Harper.

They are learning the tough lesson that Dodgers, Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers fans have already learned.

Spending heavily on free agents doesn’t always work.

Or, even, normally.

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I’m good with what’s going on more than most.

I enjoyed the World Series, but the fiscal build-up before and since seemed unsustainable.

Not due to a lack of support from the fans. More because of the punishments being sanctioned by league owners. Whether I agree with them, or not.

***

Many of the most upset, despite being very intelligent baseball fans, couldn’t name four viable candidates for the Cubs at 1.24 come June. Because, the minor leagues aren’t a priority. Nor is Internacionale (which is everything regarding the foreign recruitment of youngsters).

“Give me veterans. With write-ups on Fangraphs. And a good FIP or Line Drive percentage.”

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Baseball will surprise you. On Sunday morning, it surprised me.

While doing some statistical research on Roberto Clemente, I found back to back days where he recorded outfield assists at home against Lee May. Once on a fly ball from Tommy Helms, and the next day on a single to right when May started at third.

I’m confident I will be wrong more than my share of times.

However, spending on the draft and international classes seems a much better gamble than throwing six years guaranteed at a veteran. It could work out well.

Or that could become Jordan Zimmermann.

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Which doesn’t mean I’m opposed to adding “big names.” By having plenty of cash against the limit, and prospects, the St. Louis Cardinals added Marcell Ozuna for nickels on the dollar.

The Houston Astros didn’t over-extend to add Justin Verlander.

With a good financial location and prospects, they were able to plug in Gerrit Cole rather easily.

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Teams will often be shopping quality players who make a decent chunk of change. Like Verlander.

On occasion, players with “bargain contracts” will look really appealing. Like Chris Archer.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Teams that find ways to develop more talent of their own than their rivals are often rewarded. Particularly, if they are well-financed and smartly run.

However, the allure of the expensive veteran can be captivating. Carl Crawford. Adrian Gonzalez. Veteran free-agents are a coin-flip on success, but the money is guaranteed.

Agree with me? Don’t agree? Fine.

From what I’m seeing and hearing, the people most upset about 2018 are ones than try to remain undeterred by the financial rules that are changing baseball.

Just as the Cubs are willing to spend.

***

Full slate in the Cubs minor league pipeline tonight.

And the National League’s ERA leader is a guy you’d never heard of two years ago.

Think for yourself. Ask questions. Be nice to others.

You can also find me at @tim815 on Twitter, or at The Zygote 50 on Facebook.