CHICAGO â Fans wait 108 years, the last thing they want to hear is that itâs not yet time. But with each passing moment in the World Series, the Cubs look ill-suited to take the final step.
Oh, the Series is not over. The Cubs can rally from a three-games-to-one deficit by beating the Indians three straight. Yet, the Indiansâ 7-2 victory in Game 4 Saturday only reinforced what has been evident for most of the Series — that the Cubs, even after winning 103 games during the regular season, still are not quite there.
All season, weâve marveled at the Cubsâ wave of young talent — six of the nine members of their starting lineup in Game 2 were 24-and-under, a record that will not easily be broken.
Alas, the Cubsâ youngsters finally are acting their respective ages.
âI just think the moment right now — at times, weâre having a hard time slowing the moment down, going at-bat to at-bat, staying at what we do best,â said retiring catcher David Ross, 39, who could play his final game Sunday with the Cubs facing elimination in Game 5. âWeâre getting outside of ourselves.
âYouâve got to give some credit to the pitcher. But I see a lot of early swings. Weâve done a real good job of putting together lengthy at-bats all year long. Right now, the moment I think and the atmosphere of us wanting to do so much for these fans, I really think thatâs where it comes from.â
Consider the grim Series statistics from the 24-and-under club:
Addison Russell: 2-for-15
Javier Baez: 2-for-17.
Willson Contreras: 1-for-13.
Kris Bryant: 1-for-14.
Combined, the quartet is a combined 6-for-59 (.102), with 18 strikeouts and six walks. Theyâre averaging 3.69 pitches per plate appearance, and the number would be lower without Bryant. The rest of the team is averaging 4.16.
Who ever imagined that the Cubs would miss Kyle Schwarber to this extent when the Series shifted to Wrigley Field? Schwarber, 23, takes disciplined at-bats, something that cannot be said in this Series of Baez, Contreras and Russell.
âI feel like theyâre trying to do too much,â the Cubsâ other veteran catcher, Miguel Montero, said of the teamâs young players. âThere are a lot of emotions going on. Theyâre all trying to be the hero. Weâve got to be able to control our emotions a little bit.
âYou can see a little frustration even in the first at-bat. I mean, itâs just the first at-bat. Whatâs going on? Youâve still got three more to go. Youâve got to control your emotions, take one pitch at a time, one at-bat at a time.
âSometimes, I tell the players, âJust chill.â It doesnât matter if youâre 0-for-3 or 0-for-4. You might get the biggest at-bat of the game. We need you to be locked in for that. If you keep carrying one at-bat over to the other one, when the big at-bats show up, youâre not going to be ready. Youâre still thinking about the past. Youâve got to move on.â
If the Cubs had not won the most regular-season games in the majors, raising expectations in Chicago to almost giddy levels, we would consider all of this to be quite normal. Winning in professional sports often is a process. Many teams experience adversity before becoming champions.
The Cubs thought that adversity had come last season, when the Mets swept them in the NLCS. But the Indians, to this point, are the far superior team — or at least, the far superior postseason team. Yes, there is a difference, but thatâs hardly a knock at the Indians, an utterly captivating bunch that is now 10-2 in the playoffs with a 1.68 ERA.
Francisco Lindor, 22, and Jose Ramirez, 24, certainly are not experiencing the same problems as the Cubsâ youngsters — theyâre two of the best players on the field. Manager Terry Francona fretted early Saturday about Lindor getting picked off at first base in the first inning of Game 3. But Lindor followed with a hit in his next at-bat and had two more hits and a walk in Game 4.
Francona said of Lindor, âthe bigger the game, the more fun he has.â Ramirez is the same way. And while it can be argued that the Indians face less pressure than the Cubs, the bottom line is that theyâre outplaying, outthinking and outmanaging their favored opponent.
Again, this all can change quickly; the pitching matchup in Game 5 — Jon Lester vs. Trevor Bauer — leans heavily toward the Cubs. But the Cubs, after successfully heeding manager Joe Maddonâs call to âembrace the target,â might simply need more time to realize their full vision.
Maddon, during his pre-game meeting with the FOX broadcasters, said the Cubsâ biggest area of improvement in the next couple of seasons will be hitting, explaining that there is less room for projection with fielding and baserunning.
âIn my mindâs eye, my God, you anticipate two years from now, those at-bats will be different — you know theyâre going to be different,â Maddon said. âThatâs what Iâm encouraged by.â
Maddon wasnât conceding; he simply was stating the truth. For many of the young Cubs, short-term pain indeed will translate into long-term gain. The problem will be lining everything up, matching the pitching with the hitting. John Lackey is 38, Jon Lester is 32 and Jake Arrieta is eligible for free agency after next season.
Itâs understandable that no Cubs fan wants to talk patience, not after 108 years of waiting for another World Series title.
Unfortunately, this Series is demonstrating that a little more patience might be required.