Kyle Schwarber

As Cubs search for rhythm, hold the declarations on this season for a while

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USA TODAY

As Cubs search for rhythm, hold the declarations on this season for a while

Jed Hoyer is right: You can't make any claims about these Cubs one way or the other.

It's too early and the weather/schedule has been far too wacky for any strong statements about who, exactly, the 2018 Cubs are. 

"I don't think you can really evaluate much so far," Hoyer said. "There's no rhythm to the season yet. The game's been played in terrible condition for the most part.

"Positively or negatively, I don't think you can draw big conclusions based on what's happened. ... There's a lot of games to be played. We'll forget this time quickly and remember what it's like to be in [Wrigley] when it's not freezing. It's been a little choppy and hard to evaluate, for sure."

You can shout "SMALL SAMPLE SIZE" from the Wrigleyville rooftops all you'd like, but that's not even why it's impossible to draw conclusions about the identity of this team.

The 8-8 Cubs have already had five postponements due to weather to start the 2018 season, including four on the recent homestand (and a makeup game on Thursday, which was originally scheduled as a travel day). The last time this franchise had five games in April called on account of weather was back in 1967 and there are still another 10 days left in the month for the weather to possibly mess with. 

This will surely go down as one of the oddest starts to a season in Cubs history, with a 17-inning game played on the second day of the year, followed by a 10-inning game the next day. The Cubs were supposed to start the campaign with six straight games, but the last contest in Cincinnati was postponed, so they got an impromptu two-day break, which was good at the time for Anthony Rizzo to rest his ailing back and the bullpen to catch their breath.

After a four-game series in Milwaukee's domed stadium in which the Cubs finally looked to be showing some rhythm, the weather reared its ugly head again.

The 11-day homestand featured four postponed games, maybe the worst weather game in Wrigley Field history (Saturday) and yet another impromptu two-day break. This week alone, the Cubs played two games in a five-day span.

All of that has led to an inconsistent product.

One day, the Cubs look like an offensive juggernaut, going 5-for-9 with runners in scoring position, chasing an opposing starter before the fifth inning and scoring in bunches, as they showed Thursday in the 8-5 win over the Cardinals.

But in half the games this year, they can't seem to buy a hit against pitchers most Cubs fans haven't even heard of.

One day, the starting rotation flashes its elite potential, only to get battered around the next night.

"We haven't pitched very well," said Jon Lester, who allowed only an unearned run across six innings Thursday. "I'm not gonna speak for hitters; I don't like to cross that line by any means. But I feel like we've had some really good offensive games and our pitching staff as a whole hasn't stepped up.

"I think things will get better if we can get some games in. You got pitchers that are going on 6, 7, 8 days rest all the time. It's hard to get in that rhythm, especially when it's cold out. It's hard to find the ball; it's hard to find that release point."

Lester isn't one for making excuses and the Cubs aren't doing that. Every team in baseball has to go through these head-scratching weather issues, but it's impossible to point to the team's starting pitching inconsistency without including the schedule caveat. 

Baseball players — and starting pitchers, in specific — are creatures of habit and yet everybody is trying to navigate this new terrain.

Kyle Hendricks is still throwing a bunch on the side during all these rain/snow-outs, but most relievers are saving their bullets. Position players are still working out and getting their time in the cages, but that doesn't help everything.

The team that set records for their defensive prowess in 2016 has been inconsistent in the field this year, though their manager has an idea why.

"When you don't play consistently, the feel, the nuance, that escapes you," Joe Maddon said. 

The same issues that plagued the Cubs during their World Series "hangover" last year still seem to be around — not coming up with the timely hit, poor situational hitting overall, too many walks from the pitching staff.

But there are also reasons for optimism.

Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell are showing development offensively and the lineup has missed its anchor (Anthony Rizzo) for almost half the season (seven games). Carl Edwards Jr. is limiting his walks and the Cubs bullpen has been the team's saving grace for the first three weeks.

The starting rotation is still iffy, but with resumes like Lester's, Kyle Hendricks', Jose Quintana's and Yu Darvish's, that figures to even out over a larger sample size.

The Cubs haven't fallen too far back in the standings (3 games behind the NL Central-leading Pittsburgh Pirates) and more importantly than anything, they've been able to stay healthy, apart from minor back issues for Rizzo and Ben Zobrist.

The weather still doesn't look great in Colorado, Cleveland or back in Chicago next week, but eventually things will warm up and the sun will come out on a regular basis.

And eventually enough games will be played — and not postponed — where statements about who the 2018 Cubs are can be identified conclusively.

It's just not that time...yet.

With miserable weather and a bonkers comeback, this was the craziest game these Cubs have ever played

With miserable weather and a bonkers comeback, this was the craziest game these Cubs have ever played

Was this the craziest game you’ve ever been a part of?

“The craziest, absolutely.”

Kris Bryant didn’t even need to go through his memory banks to find comparisons. Saturday’s insane comeback win over the visiting Atlanta Braves had no comparison.

Denizens of the press box, the few fans who waited through three-plus hours of miserable weather conditions and the players getting dressed in the clubhouse all said the same thing: That was the craziest game I’ve ever seen.

Baseball’s got a long history and a lengthy list of wild finishes, but there’s no doubt that Saturday’s 14-10 final will forever be lodged in the memories of those who watched, witnessed and participated in it.

And all because it started as such a game to forget.

In Joe Maddon’s opinion, it was a game that never should have been played, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment considering the conditions at Wrigley Field. It was freezing cold, with an announced wind chill of 25 degrees in the fourth inning. Rain fell the entire game, moving sideways through the stadium in a never-ending mist. And the wind was howling at such a speed that the standings flags and flags honoring the Cubs’ retired jersey numbers never even went up. It wouldn’t have been at all surprising to see the American flag fly off the flagpole above the center field scoreboard.

“I thought the 2008 World Series game was the worst-weather game I ever participated in. I think it just got surpassed,” Maddon said. “That’s not baseball weather. I don’t know what the intent is, I really don’t. The elements were horrific to play baseball, it’s not conducive.

“We made mistakes on the infield, they made mistakes on the infield, in the outfield based on weather-related issues. Because these are really good players. Even to a certain extent their wildness toward the end of the game was contributed to by the horrible weather.

“We’re going to do what we’re asked or told to do. But I’m here to tell you, that was the worst elements I’ve ever participated in in a baseball game ever. And I’ve been in some pretty bad stuff.”

That “wildness,” of course, ended up defining the game. The Braves’ bullpen, which entered Saturday with the best relief ERA in baseball, blew up in the eighth inning, allowing the Cubs to score nine runs — all with two outs — and engineer an unbelievable comeback in jaw-dropping fashion.

Here’s the play-by-play of that bottom of the eighth: hit batter, strikeout, single, strikeout, hit batter, infield single, walk, double, intentional walk, walk, walk, walk, wild pitch, throwing error, strikeout.

Described in more detail, it featured three bases-loaded walks, a seared bases-clearing game-tying double off the bat of Javy Baez, a wild pitch that brought home a runner from third and another when the Braves' catcher threw the ball into center field. It was absolute baseball madness.

It all added up to nine runs, which turned a 10-5 deficit — which was as big as 10-2 earlier in the game — into a 14-10 lead for the Cubs, who walked away with an absolutely incredible win.

The team on the other side of town has turned its tendency not to quit into a mantra. But these guys on the North Side don’t give up easily, either. And they praised the positive attitude in the dugout, with the bench keeping everybody lively. Anthony Rizzo, most likely itching to come off the disabled list, was supposedly acting as cheerleader/team dad, pumping up his teammates and bringing in supplies to keep them warm.

“Everybody played a part in this win, and that’s kind of what we’re all about this year,” Bryant said, “the guys that aren’t in the game, Rizz on the disabled list helping us out, bringing us coats and warm water bottles and doing all he can. Everybody, from our trainers to the clubhouse guys, everybody had a part in this win today, and that’s what makes it more special.”

“It’s not a good feeling when you’re down that much, especially in that weather,” Kyle Schwarber said. “It was a great sign of resilience. I would say that we all had really great attitudes throughout the whole game there. Our bench guys were cheering everyone on, getting everyone going. Once everything started going, we just kept rolling.”

“We don’t really give up never. The energy in the dugout was pretty pumped, with Rizz joking around and stuff,” Baez said. “We didn’t give up.”

And so, yeah, this is one to remember. But will it be a turning point?

That’s hard to say. As much as fans — many of whom were in a foul mood over the game’s first seven innings and were letting the Twitterverse know it — might want it to cure all the ills that have plagued these Cubs through the season’s first two weeks, Maddon cautioned that it’s still too early in the season.

“It can be impactful, but you have to wait till tomorrow or the next day to find that out,” Maddon said. “These are professionals, you don’t know the kind of impact it’s going to have. I do know that the guys are definitely going to go home feeling better about themselves. But I don’t get carried away yet about things like this, I really don’t.”

“It’s just another win in the win column,” Bryant said. “Obviously, there’s a lot more camaraderie and guys having a lot of fun, especially after a win like that, it’s impossible not to have fun. We’ll enjoy it for tonight, and then come out here and it’ll be nice and cold and rainy out here tomorrow.”

They have a point. The Cubs were hardly at their best Saturday, even in pulling off such an epic comeback. They were outhit 15-10, got only three hits in their nine-run inning and glaringly got only one run out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation in the sixth inning. There were errors in the field — though, as Maddon suggested, perhaps those were weather-related — and Jose Quintana made it another short outing for a Cubs starting pitcher, giving up seven runs in fewer than three innings and putting the Cubs in such a hole to begin with.

The issues remain. One comeback win won’t solve them all. But at the same time, there’s something to be said about something so improbable happening giving a group of players the idea that they can do anything. Maybe it is the start of something special. Like Maddon said, it’s impossible to know until tomorrow.

And while this game is sure to be remembered for a very long time, it will only be celebrated until tomorrow. Maybe even shorter than that.

“Thirty minutes,” Maddon said, “and it’ll be over.”

Some celebration for the craziest game these Cubs have ever played.

Javy Baez fires back at Pirates: 'You don't go out there and talk trash about someone'

Javy Baez fires back at Pirates: 'You don't go out there and talk trash about someone'

"Four homers in two days and he doesn't respect the game!"

One Cubs player shouted that sarcastic comment across the home clubhouse Thursday evening as Javy Baez addressed a group of media around his locker following the 6-1 loss in the series finale with the Pirates.

Roughly 6 hours earlier, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle targeted Baez for the bat he threw in frustration in the seventh inning of the Cubs' 13-5 win Wednesday night.

Hurdle and the Pirates apparently took exception to Baez, who hit his fourth homer in the series his next at-bat.

"Where is the respect for the game?" Hurdle asked Thursday morning.

Baez immediately took ownership of his bat-toss after Wednesday's game, calling it embarrassing and a mistake to learn from.

The dynamic infielder didn't even find out out about Hurdle's comments in the Cubs clubhouse after the series finale Thursday and was as fired up meeting the media as he's ever been.

"I bust my ass every day to play hard," Baez said. "I don't think anyone plays this game harder than me. I respect 90, I respect whatever, but you don't go out there and talk trash about someone.

"To be honest, I got a lot of things I can say right now, but I don't control what's out there, what people talk about me. I'm just gonna keep playing my game. Last year was a player talking about my gamestyle and now this year, it's a manager.

"Like I said, I don't control it. However it gets to me, I learn from it, learn from that bat-flip last night. That's all I gotta say. If anybody got stuff to say, they can save it."

Baez said he chatted with Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli about the incident during the course of Thursday's game, but said the veteran backstop went about it "in a great way" and the two players wound up joking with each other about Baez's at-bats.

"If I gotta apologize, I have to apologize to my teammates and my manager," Baez said. "Not to the other team. We're playing against them. We won 13-something. I think it got to them.

"We lost the series, but we're still the same. I'm happy. There's music in the clubhouse after we lost. There's nothing to take personally. People that talk about me, can save it. 

"...It's just a game. I'm gonna play hard every day. Whoever likes it, fine. Whoever doesn't like it, that's you."

Before Hurdle's comments became public, Maddon spoke at length about the Cubs' clubhouse policing itself and none of Baez's teammates or coaches had any issues with how he went about his business.

Kyle Schwarber noted how Baez was actually smiling and joking around even while the Cubs were losing Thursday, keeping things positive in the dugout.

"He's a really good human being," Schwarber said. "He really enjoys the game."