The 1996 season began rather strangely for the Cubs and the N.L. Central.
The Cubs took over first place by defeating the Cardinals April 30. Their record? 13-14. They held on to the top spot for a week or so, and even into mid-season the division leader was barely over .500, leading to it being dubbed the “Comedy Central.”
That leader was not the Cubs in May, though. Entering the action on May 20, they had lost 10 of their last 15 games, and Frank Castillo took the mound to begin a road trip in Atlanta against the Braves.
Castillo’s outing didn’t last long. He faced 12 batters. Eight of them scored, and he threw 46 pitches to record four outs. Rodney Myers, Doug Jones and Mike Perez were equally bad, and the only Cubs pitcher to not allow a run was Bob Patterson, who threw a 1-2-3 eighth after the Cubs were already down 18-1, which wound up the final score.
The Cubs’ lone run, off lefty Steve Avery, came on an RBI single by Leo Gomez.
Myers. Jones. Perez. Gomez. You likely remember very few of those players as Cubs. Doug Jones, in particular, was awful as a Cub, despite having good years before and after his time as a North Sider.
The 1996 Cubs went 9-17 in May and ended the month with a 22-31 record. Even at that, they were just four games out of first place. They actually played well from there through mid-September. On September 10 they defeated the Expos and were 73-71 — thus having gone 51-40 since the end of May — and were 5½ games out of first place with 18 games remaining. That’s a fairly large deficit, but not impossible to overcome.
Except for the hot-and-cold 1996 Cubs. They went 3-15 the rest of the way and finished 12 games out of first place. Combined with the 0-14 start in 1997, the Cubs had a stretch where they lost 29 of 32 regular-season games.