Monday, July 30, 2007

fifty hot games

on june 2 of this year, very few people in this world would have pictured what has happened to the chicago cubs in the last fifty games -- and for some really good reasons. we can go back and sift the archives of many cub blogs from early june -- acb, bcb and many others were as appropriately dour as i was two months ago as the cubs continued to fade away following an ominously early violation of the five back rule.

what has changed since? the team binged on a patch of four-leaf clovers and as a result became constipated by a golden horseshoe.

GmDateTeamOpp RSRAYTDlast 50
154   2003CHC@PITL610837121.53218
161   2003CHCPITW7288731-2.03119
149   2004CHC@FLAL258366215.03119

contrary to virtually all expectation of two months ago, the cubs have run off one of the hottest 50-game streaks of baseball in their last ten years. it has been stunning to watch as it has elevated them from down 8.5 games at the lowest point to just half a game back of the division-leading milwaukee brewers.

virtually everywhere one reads around the blogosphere that surrounds the cubs, there has since been a terrifying flurry of rationalization and revisionist history. one would hardly know, to read most cub blogs or indeed the mainstream media, that this club was almost universally left for dead nine weeks ago. forgotten is every sensible preseason forecast of win totals in the low-80s and the intelligent articulation of flaws that they were based on. opinion pages are now brimming with optimism and (to a lesser extent) replete with self-congratulation at the foresight of the sunny, be they sensible or no. in many respects, watching the society around the team has been more perplexing and entertaining than has watching the team itself.

the real question is, though, what does fifty hot games mean?

is it signal to this team's inevitable strength finally showing through? it isn't hard to find that argument, being broadcast by bullhorn as it has been by some in recent weeks. indeed, every other club on the list above -- 2001, 2003, 2004 -- found itself with a win total near 88 or 89 and in the playoff hunt to the very last week. (the 1998 club narrowly avoided this list, having won at most 30 of 50 for some stretches of that year.) it is presumed, of course, that as such this must be a demonstration of similar intrinsic playoff-worthiness.

i'm not so delerious as all that. there's of course no doubt now that, whatever the mechanism, the cubs have played their way back into an even fight with the brewers and stand a decent chance of playing into october. (thank the gods for that!) that such a run was inevitable, or even likely, or that it represents a display of intrinsic team quality, or represents the sustainable output level of this team... there's where my skepticism starts.

i called it as i saw it in april and in june, and i really can't say that i've seen the convincing evidence that changes my mind, that makes this club really intrinsically good on the merit of its talent alone. in spite of their record, they've just been so bizarrely fortunate! i'll certainly ride the wave of chance all the way to the world series without the slightest guilt -- better lucky than good, after all -- but i can't say i'd even begin to change the basis of the forecasts i made then, except perhaps to embolden the caveats around them regarding the role of chance.

such arguments aren't going to be well received at a time when most are just trying to enjoy it -- and that's fine. i've never really understood those who find realism annoying, whose fantasies are so fragile that they find skepticism threatening, but then i don't have to. for me, a natural skepticism has covered the last two months in a sort of awe of nature and her capricious power -- what we're witnessing, even if it isn't the product of skill so much as fortune, is a tremendous and humbling demonstration of vicissitude. if that isn't enough to get your gears turning even as you scramble to check the scores in anticipation, you're a very different person from me.

even so, even as i've enjoyed this run as much as anyone i know, there is a certain foreboding. i have an eye on the clock, as it were. streaks like this don't last forever, and when the bell tolls midnight for this pumpkin-carriage it may very well be back to .500 for the remainder of the way -- and that barring a spate of truly bad luck.

it seems a lot to ask under the circumstances, but if the cubs have another couple weeks of this in them, if they could get a lead of a few games to buffer them from what may come the rest of the way... this could be the start of a really brilliant autumn.

in the meantime, if ever there was a point in following this club that i'd advocate just living in the moment -- this is it. revel. savor. god knows what's next.

No comments: