The year after their All-Star Game takeover, the Cubs will be keeping a conspicuously lower profile at this showcase event, another sign of an underachieving 41-41 team.
Joe Maddon will still probably have some sort of “Miami Vice” outfit or whiteout look for the Biscayne Boulevard parade – and enjoy all the attention from the international media and banter with familiar reporters at Marlins Park – but the Cubs are playing like they could use a four-day timeout next week to decompress on the beach and on the golf course.
A World Series manager can’t just pack the All-Star roster with his cronies anymore. There might be an enthusiasm gap for Cub fans and a meaningless exhibition after watching the end of the 108-year drought. Competitors are clearly catching up to the defending champs, with the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies all on pace to win between 93 and 100-plus games.
But this is the bottom line to the Cubs getting one guaranteed All-Star selection – lights-out closer Wade Davis plus Kris Bryant in the final-vote gimmick – on Sunday when Major League Baseball unveiled the National League roster.
“It’s just reflective of our performance to this point,” Maddon said. “It’s just different, man. Last year, it was just a different vibe, a different start. Guys were having simultaneously kind of career years. This year, we’re not.”
The Cubs are over the comparisons to last year, but the runaway forces and unique bonds on the 2016 team showed up at Petco Park in San Diego, where their entire infield started the All-Star Game: Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Bryant. Their you-go, we-go leadoff guy (Dexter Fowler) also made the West Coast trip along with two Cy Young Award-caliber starting pitchers (Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester).
“Dexter’s not here,” Maddon said. “Zobrist has been hurt. Jason (Heyward) was doing well, then he got hurt. Addison has not had the same kind of first half that he had last year.
“Part of it has been impacted by injury, (but) I’m not worried about any of that.”
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Another point of reference: The 2014 Rick Renteria-managed team that ultimately lost 89 games and finished in fifth place for the fifth consecutive season landed three (!) All-Stars in Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija (though a Fourth of July trade to the Oakland A’s made him ineligible to pitch).
For all their bumps and bruises, frustrating inconsistencies and breakdowns in all phases, the Cubs are still two games out of first place in an NL Central where only the Milwaukee Brewers are (barely) playing above .500.
“I just want us to be well and back together by hopefully right after the break going into August,” Maddon said. “We’ve done well the last part of the season the last two years in a row.
“Stay handy for right now and then get to that point. And then hopefully get the band back together and make the push that you’re looking to make.”
While the rest of the big-league players scatter to vacation destinations, the most interesting Cub involved in the All-Star festivities might be Class-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who got invited to the Futures Game.
Assuming the farm system isn’t tapped out and has enough talent to package in a blockbuster deal – and the front office decides this up-and-down team is worth the reinvestment and wins a long-shot bidding war for a top-of-the-rotation starter – Jimenez would be the headliner.
“Listen, this kid is quite a talent,” Maddon said. “He’s a great kid, too. Very bright. It’s an easy conversation with him. He’s open and he listens well. Besides being this physical specimen with all kinds of tools, he’s got something going on between his ears, which I think is really going to benefit him.
“I don’t know when it’s going to be, but he’s going to be here at some point for a long period of time.”