Sunday, July 18, 2010

Second-Half Survival Strategies for Cubs Fans

The goal is to capture the flag. When that fails, try to avoid looking like a total idiot (unless idiocy is your strategy).
The Cubs begin play today 10 games under .500 and 10 games behind the Central Division's new leaders, the St. Louis Cardinals. They're 4th in the Central and 9th (9.5 GB) in the Wild Card standings. None of those circumstances fill me with joy, but the state of the 2010 Cubs season makes me feel a lot like Miracle Max overlooking the Man in Black's mostly dead body: I've seen worse.

Aside from going through the team's pockets to look for loose change, the prevailing opinion among pessimists, realists, and guarded optimists has been that the Cubs should hold a fire sale. Toss the bulky expiring contracts overboard like so much ballast from the sinking ship and try to sail again next year (or the year after that {or the year after that}). Other more delightedly delusional fans think it's not too late for the Cubs (yes, the Chicago Cubs) to make a run at the postseason. These fans seem open to a trade or two, but the only white flags they want to see waving at Wrigley are the ones of the rarely used W variety.

I don't know what the Cubs should (or even can) do, but I want to help you, my fellow Cubs fan, understand what your options are as our team finishes out the remaining 70 games in this seemingly interminable season. Is it too late to hope, and what should we be hoping for? Let's survey the landscape and see what mindset will result in the fewest headaches and/or heartbreaks.

The division-leading Cardinals have a .554 winning percentage, which puts them on pace for a 90-win season. For the Cubs to win 90 games, they need to go 49-21 the rest of the way. That's a .700 winning percentage. A lot of people reference the resurgent White Sox as the standard of improbable turnarounds, but even before their three-game skid against the Twins, the White Sox previous 70-game stretch was an impressive 43-27, a .614 win percentage.

The Cards and Reds may both fall short of 90 wins, but not by much. I highly doubt the Cubs could win the division with 84 wins, and that's exactly what a Sox-esque turnaround would leave them with. The Wild Card race is on almost the same track, so there's no need for further exploration. The Cubs need about three miracles to reach the postseason. So here are your options:

Keep Hope Alive
This is the big risk/big reward tactic. There's almost no chance you'll be right, and everyone will label you the village idiot for as long as you hold the opinion and a turncoat the moment you give up. If you wind up being right, you can brag and rejoice in the integrity of your faith, but . . . yeah, it ain't happening.

Keep Quiet
This approach requires you to become the cliché. Take it one game at a time. Stay within yourself. Don't try to do more than you can do. As a fan, it's not a bad place to be, especially if the Cubs play half decent and the front office does nothing especially inspiring. You don't get carried away in positive or negative emotion and you don't get burned. People might call you a bandwagon rider or fair-weather fan, but it's better than idiot.

Burn Hope Alive
You want the fire sale. You want the number 1 pick in the 2011 draft. You want every player gone and every staff member fired. Except Larry Rothschild. He's a lifer now like Yosh Kawano. But everyone else can go. Your target for victory is 2013 at the earliest because the entire Cubs organization will consist of rookies and prospects by the time the fire sale is over. The emotional benefit is that Cubs wins are still nice and Cubs losses are even better. On the downside, though, your dependence shifts from the product on the field to the quality of the off-the-field decisions. If you thought Ryan Theriot swinging at the first pitch was infuriating, good luck putting up with Jim Hendry's inactivity. You'll also be labeled "not a real fan," which, I'm guessing, you've learned to live with.

Wait for Heaven to Come in 2011
If you're in this group, Jim Hendry will welcome you with open arms. When Lou says the team is more seller than buyer, he's not speaking on a hunch. But Hendry has tempered any fan dreams of a fire sale by saying that any move the Cubs make will be to help the team for next year. It could happen, I guess. The upside is, you can enjoy making fun of how bad the team is now while still reveling in the occasional win. The rub is that the offseason becomes a hot stove headache. You probably won't agree with a single move Jim Hendry (or his possible replacement) makes the entire time even though you approve of his general approach to stay competitive. You'll still be regarded as a fan, but you probably won't enjoy yourself.

Cheer for a Good Team
Sorry, but none of these options smell like survival to me. If you're looking to enjoy baseball, you might be better off picking a team with a better prognosis. You'll be branded a traitor, but, like LeBron James, your chances at celebrating a championship will go way up.

I wish the outlook was cheerier, folks, but being a Cub fan and winning don't exactly go hand in hand. If you enjoy this Way of [L]ife (which I do, for whatever reason) just bear it. Grinning is optional.
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