Greatness in August: The Banality of Brilliance

Before this season began, I wrote a piece about what a weird sensation it was to go into a new year with optimism that was based upon legitimate evidence. The Cubs have since supported that positivity in an unfamiliar way by repeatedly demonstrating that this preseason optimism may have actually undersold how good they were.

This in turn has led to a summer of many new and unfamiliar experiences. For instance, if you turn on Chicago sports radio this August, there’s at least a 50 percent chance that the hosts will actually be talking about the sport that’s currently in season instead of 24-7 speculation about Jay Cutler being unable to win a Super Bowl because he’s convinced that they gave the trophy in vaccine form.

This demonstrates one of the ironclad rules in Chicago sports culture: You know the Cubs are doing well when you have no idea who the Bears’ long snapper is.

But the increased scrutiny that comes from a historically great season means that the Cubs are also going to be the subject of numerous sports radio takes. And there’s a popular one going around right now that elucidates another feeling that’s unfamiliar to Cub fans. The Score’s Dan Bernstein articulated it last week:

“The regular season is only two-thirds complete, even though we all seem ready enough to get on with things…If this were a family car trip, we’d be at the point where the kids are fidgety and mom and dad are getting annoyed.”

Now, as Cub fans, we’re already used to wishing the season would end once the calendar turns to August. For most of our lives, Cubs baseball was like driving through Nebraska: once you reached the point where you want it to stop, you realized that you still had two-thirds of the way to go.

But all of a sudden, in 2016 there is a segment of Chicago that wants the season to end because the team is too good.  The Cubs have gone 19-6 in August. And yet after a lifetime of being told to wait until next year, all of a sudden it’s become impossible to wait one more month. Alanis Morrisette would call that ironic. Because the rest of us would call it wrong.

For years—decades even—we’ve looked with jealousy at teams like the 1998 Yankees and thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if I saw one Cubs team like that in my life?” And yet now that the Cubs have given us one of the most dominant rosters in the history of the franchise, fan reaction during the 2016 season has broken down this way:

APRIL-MAY: Everything is awesome!

JUNE-ALL STAR BREAK: Let’s watch Leaving Las Vegas so we can cheer up.

JULY-AUGUST: We won again?…*Googles “Go Cubs Go covered by Bon Iver”*

This kind of reaction to overwhelming baseball excellence is somewhat explicable since the Cubs have been priming their fanbase for October 2016 from Theo Epstein’s press conference on the day after they were eliminated by the Mets last year. With those expectations come the understanding that for the next several years, the Cubs’ success is going to be measured by what they do in the postseason.

But while so many of us wait impatiently to just get the season over with so the real games can begin, there is something just as important to consider: the Cubs are still  playing incredible baseball nearly every day. Just because we’ve long since run out of synonyms for “great” hasn’t stopped them from playing the kind of games that make us search for more.

Think of everything they’ve done just in the last week. On the surface, there’s no more ordinary accomplishment than sweeping the Padres in late August. Their entire roster is made up of names that real major leaguers use to check into a hotel. Jim Deshaies’s number one Key to the Game against San Diego is “Don’t lock they keys in the team bus.”

And yet, even though the best the Cubs could do was exactly what was expected of them, consider all of the amazing moments that happened during the Padres series. Javy Baez played the kind of defense that can only be described as “orgasmic.” Then Addison Russell proved that the Cubs’ infield could achieve multiple ones.

Jake Arrieta walked the leadoff batter on Tuesday. And then decided that the only way to show penance for this transgression was to allow the Padres only one more hit than he himself got.

Willson Contreras picked off a baserunner. Which was a great play but not exactly earth shaking news. But so did Jon Lester. And it’s a wonder that San Diego’s SPCA did not immediately apply for a $50 million dollar grant to house all of its dogs and cats suddenly living together.

All of that was just a prelude to Friday night in Dodger Stadium where the Cubs played one of the best and most exciting games of the year. Jason Heyward led the game-tying rally off Kenley Jansen–awhich is usually a sentence that makes Clippy pop up and say “I see you’re writing fiction. Would you like some more hallucinogens?”

But the evening belonged to Kris Bryant as he apparently read the Fangraphs piece delving into his sub-par numbers in clutch situations and thought, “Oh jeez, I forgot about that. Better make it all up in one night…”

In past years, we’d be lucky to see two of these kind of plays in a week. And now they’ve all happened in the span of four days. The Cubs have been building up to this kind of dominance for too long to suddenly accept that this kind of greatness has become mundane.

The white knuckles and roller coaster emotions of October drama will happen soon enough. In the meantime, we’ll just have to be satisfied with another month of one of the greatest teams we’ve ever seen. And shouldn’t that be enough to get this fanbase through September?

I’ll hang up and listen for my answer.

Lead photo courtesy Jayne Kamin-Oncea—USA Today Sports.

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1 comment on “Greatness in August: The Banality of Brilliance”


Love your stuff. Nice work.

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