Okay, lets get this out of the way. Am I an Indians fan? Yes. Am I biased? Probably. But this article comes on the heels of some comments made towards Eric Thames of the Brewers and their slow start and has led me to believe that the Cubs are unfocused and unprepared for a defense of their first title in 108 years.
An 10-8 start. Not the best start for a team that was expected to win 100 games and repeat as World Series Champs. While the play on the field should and will pick up, the off-field distractions are making it hard to believe that this team is focused and ready to repeat. It’s hard to repeat. Every day you play there is a target on your back from the fans, national media, and other teams. The Cubs, however, aren’t really making it easier on themselves.
Let’s start with the Ownership drama. Cubs co-owner, GOP mega-donor, and Ted Cruz lookalike Todd Ricketts was nominated by President Trump to serve as Deputy Secretary of Commerce. The unpopularity of Trump and the clear conflict of interest with owning a professional sports team and working in the Department of Commerce only added to the headache that Cubs management was feeling. Now, just this past week Ricketts has withdrawn his name from consideration and stated that he hopes that there are future opportunities to contribute to the Trump administration in the future. It is unclear what other issues there were that lead to Todd Ricketts withdrawing his name, but the political drama definitely served as an unwanted distraction.
There is also internal frustration within the organization about Cubs outfielder Jason Hayward. He talked all offseason about his reworked swing and living up to the monster contract that he was given (he is the highest-paid player on the team). He hit an unsightly .164/.270/.327 during spring training and while he is hitting .294 this season so far, 14 of his 15 hits are singles (4 of which are infield hits). What is even more alarming is that his slugging percentage is lower than his on-base percentage. It is hard to imagine Hayward continuing at this pace, which will only add to the internal conflict within the organization.
And then there are the comments made by John Lackey and pitching coach Chris Bosio. Eric Thames is having a career resurgence with the Milwaukee Brewers. After retooling his swing, he became a major power threat during his time in the Korean Baseball Organization. He has hit 8 home runs in his first 18 games and is hitting .359 so far on the season. In one game against Cubs’ pitcher John Lackey, Thames hit a double and a home run in a game the Brewers would go on to win 6-3. During the post game interview, Lackey responded with an odd comment:
“You watch film on recent stuff and try to figure out a way, you know, to get him out. But I mean, really even the homer hit the other way, I mean, you don’t see that happen here very often. That’s kinda one of those things that makes you scratch your head.”
It’s not just the comments that are odd, but Lackey winked and smiled at the reporters when he said “scratch your head” and is clearly suggesting that Thames is cheating in some way. Now, if you’re thinking, “that’s not enough evidence to suggest that the Cubs think Thames is using PEDs,” then let Chris Bosio clear things up:
“Well, the bottom line is [Thames] has hit the ball and we gotta figure out a way to get around [it]. All that other stuff, I’ll let other people worry about. But he’s doing stuff that I haven’t seen done for a long time.
“You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez when he went to the Dodgers, Barry Bonds … You’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever play this game. So, yeah, it’s probably a ‘head-scratcher’ because nobody knows who this guy is. And when he was here before, his body has changed. But, like I said, I’ll leave that to everyone else and we’re just gonna try to worry about how to pitch him better and get him out.”
When you are comparing Thames to Ramirez and Bonds, that definitely suggests that they think that he is using steroids. I am going to be very clear here. It is absolutely disgusting that a pitcher and pitching coach are suggesting a player is using PEDs when it is you that could not execute your pitches. There is no evidence that Eric Thames has used performance enhancing drugs and his body has not changed. His swing path has. That would be like me telling John Lackey that he must clearly be using PEDs because he stuck out a batter. See how ridiculous that is?
Here is some advice for John Lackey and Chris Bosio. Instead of promoting a story that you have no evidence to support, here is a better theory. Maybe Thames hit well off of you because Lackey couldn’t, oh I don’t know, maybe throw a good pitch? Stop trying to label players as cheaters when things don’t go your way. That’s what children do, or what our President does.
With the internal conflicts within the organization and the childish and inappropriate comments by a Cubs coach and player, it is clear that the Cubs are unprepared to lead a title defense. If they cannot get their internal issues under control, how in the world do they think they will be able to come together and win back-to-back World Series? This young team really does have inexperience too. Sure, they won a title and have postseason experience, but it’s clear that the whole organization is not mature enough to defend its title.