Whenever the Braves play the Cubs my mind meanders back to a very specific game on a warm August day about 5 years ago. The Braves had a hot prospect by the name of Mike Minor on the mound for only his third career start. I was sitting in a classroom learning how to referee soccer while listening on my hidden earbuds as the exciting young lefty struck out 12 Cubs in six innings. I stifled my elation as rookie Jason Heyward went 4-4 with two home runs. The Braves won 16-5 that day. So monumental was the game that the Cubs first baseman had defected just days earlier in anticipation of it. So devastating was the victory that the Cubs manager, Lou Piniella resigned in dishonor immediately afterwards and never watched another inning of baseball. That’s the game that the familiar Cubs ‘c’ conjurs in my mind every season. But that was 2010. That Braves team was headed for the playoffs–crushing though that experience would be. That is the past, and I make it a point not to live there as much as I can.
It is 2015 now. Mike Minor is toiling against the walls of his deepening baseball grave. Jason Heyward has moved on to more winning pastures. That team is gone save for the aforementioned Minor and the injured Freddie Freeman. The Braves are not contenders this year. They are a mediocre team that has gotten worse as the season has worn on them. There may still be some things to be excited about, but you have to dig a little within yourself to actually find that excitement. Manny Banuelos, a capable lefty, will be taking the mound in game two of the series. He will never be what Mike Minor projected to be, but neither will Mike, it seems. Shelby Miller took Heyward’s spot on the team and is working his way into our hearts by anchoring the young, ever-changing rotation. Coming off his all-star selection, Miller will start game three. Beyond that, one has to dip into the minor leagues and the future of the team for any positivity. Which is a good development from where Atlanta was on that August day 5 years ago when the farm was already showing signs of severe depletion. The current team may not be a contender, but there is a contender on the horizon, not too far away.
On the other side of our present situation we see the Chicago Cubs. A team of storied losers who have finally assembled a baseball organization after a century of practice. The Cubs lineup is made up mostly of exciting youngsters and future stars, a couple of whom are already coming into their own. Anthony Rizzo leads the team with an unholy .409 wOBA and 162 wRC+. Right behind him on the list of Chicago hitters is the much touted rookie Kris Bryant. Beyond those two, though, the Cubs have a lot of names associated with talent who have been under-performing on offense. Dexter Fowler and Jorge Soler, for example, have been horribly average (87 and 91 wRC+ respectively), but should be capable of turning things up a couple of notches in the season’s second half. They will have a good chance to do so against the still struggling Julio Teheran, the young Banuelos, and especially the painfully depleted Atlanta bullpen.
The Cubs will start Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jake Arrieta this series. Hendricks–not a name many fans will know–is in his first full MLB season and throws a fastball in the 80’s. So he will likely one-hit Atlanta. Lester has probably not lived up to the ridiculous hype thrown on him by the thirsty Cubs fans, but he is still an excellent starter capable of ace status. Game three’s Jake Arrieta has been the best pitcher in Chicago this year. The 29 year old righty has a 2.60 FIP. He has steadily ironed out his pitching repertoire over the years to build his current strategy of inducing ground balls with a fast sinker and slider and making hitters swing like silly at his biting curve. Atlanta doesn’t stand much chance of taking more than one win this series.
This is not 2010. It’s 2015, and the Braves are a team who got swept by the bottom-dwelling Rockies in miserable fashion just last week. There are better things you can do with your time than watch these games. If you choose to go mow your yard or wash your garage or go to a non-sports-themed bar, you won’t be alone among Braves fans. As for me, I will be watching in acceptance of the current situation as just another aspect of the game I hate to love. Losing and mediocrity are a major part of baseball. It is one I am not too familiar with, personally, having been a Braves fan only since the 1990’s. But it’s an aspect that I think should be experienced and known on its own while it’s here, nonetheless. And who better to ease us into it than the masters of mediocrity, the Chicago Cubs?