The Chicago Cubs are a bad team, but before Thursday night I wouldn't have gone so far as to call them an embarrassing team.
No sir. The Boston Red Sox are an embarrassing team. The Miami Marlins are an embarrassing team. Underachievers like the Los Angeles Angels and Detroit Tigers are close to being embarrassing teams. But the Cubs? They weren't.
I say they "weren't," of course, because it wasn't until Thursday night that the Cubs crossed the line between bad and embarrassing. With their spineless antics against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs sunk to a new low.
And in doing so, the Cubs proved that they have a long, long way to go before they are ready to be a winning team.
Don't skip to the comments section to hurl obscenities to me just yet. The ripping will continue soon enough, but for now let's all chill out and stop to recap exactly what went on between the Cubs and Nationals. Just so we're all on the same page, you dig?
You do? Good, let's get to it.
The Cubs went into Thursday night's contest looking to salvage a win after getting their butts handed to them in the first three games of the series. The Nats outscored them 22-7, slugging 13 home runs in the process. They showed the Cubs, now 51-86 and in fifth place in the NL Central, absolutely no mercy.
So the Cubs were already feeling pretty frustrated by the time the third game in the series came to an end. So much so, in fact, that Cubs manager Dale Sveum told the media (via the Washington Post) that the series was "men playing against boys."
For the record, he said this mere hours after he was tossed from the game in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes. First he let his frustration get the better of him, and then he threw his own team under the bus by admitting that the Cubs were simply a far inferior team. This point would pop up in a much more subtle form on Thursday night.
According to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post (and everyone else), the drama on Thursday night began in the fifth inning. The Nationals stole a couple bases, and Jayson Werth swung at a 3-0 pitch with the bases load. It was pretty clear right then and there that Nats manager Davey Johnson wasn't overly comfortable with his team's 7-2 lead.
A brief delay took place after Werth's 3-0 swing when Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger walked over to the Cubs dugout to exchange mitts. Cubs bench coach Jamie Quirk took that delay as an excuse to start jawing at Nationals third base coach Bo Porter about Johnson's strategy. Porter took exception and walked over to the top step of the Cubs dugout, prompting both benches to clear in the fifth.
Quirk didn't comment after the game, but umpiring crew chief Jerry Layne said after the game that Quirk was definitely instigating things.
“The fracas was started because all that stuff that happened that was instigated by Quirk screaming out at Porter,” said Layne. “And the obscenities that he screamed out, I just felt was inappropriate and that’s what caused everything.”
The "fracas" referred to by Layne took place in the sixth inning when Cubs right-hander Lendy Castillo buzzed Bryce Harper with an inside fastball. It took Harper about three nanoseconds to realize that he had been targeted, and it only took a few seconds after that for both benches to clear again.
From there, it was Rabble! Rabble! Rabble! time for both clubs. MLB.com has the video highlights if you must have them. In the end, Quirk, Clevenger, Cubs reliever Manuel Corpas and Nats reliever Michael Gonzalez were all ejected. The Nats went on to win the game 9-2, completing the four-game sweep.
After the game, the Nationals denied any wrongdoing, and rightfully so. As Johnson saw it, the Cubs lost their cool for no good reason:
Here we are in the fifth inning, we’re in a pennant race, we’re going to swing 3-0, we’re going to do everything. We ain’t stopping trying to score runs. Certainly, a five-run lead at that time is nothing. I think it was the bench coach’s frustration in us handing it to them for a couple days. If they want to quit competing and forfeit, then fine. But we’re going to keep competing.
Quirk clearly disagreed with Johnson's assessment that a five-run lead is "nothing," and Clevenger said after the game that he agreed with his bench coach.
"You're up 7-2 … you don't swing 3-0 in that situation," Clevenger said, via the Chicago Tribune. It is at this point that the ripping will continue.
You don't swing 3-0 in that situation? Have I missed something? Since when is it a cardinal sin in baseball to swing at a 3-0 pitch with a five-run lead? A 10-run lead, maybe, but a five-run lead is a lead that can be cut to a single run with one swing. Furthermore, the Cubs had four more innings to close the gap if they managed to hold Washington's lead at five runs.
We're supposed to believe that the Nationals were trying to run up the score when they only had a five-run lead to work with in the fifth inning? Please. Clevenger and the rest of the Cubs may as well be asking me to believe that it was not Werth who hacked at that 3-0 pitch, but Bigfoot himself.
The denial doesn't stop there. Both Sveum and Clevenger said that the pitch that zipped past Harper's knees in the sixth inning was "not intentional."
"We're not going to hit their players for no reason," Sveum said, calling Castillo's buzz pitch a "coincidence."
Seriously, dude? You want us to believe this too? You want us to believe that a pitch that nearly took out Washington's star 19-year-old's knees mere minutes after a benches-clearing incident was an accident?
Just how stupid do you think we are? No, here's what really happened.
Sveum lost control of his team. Plain and simple. He probably lost control of it when he went ballistic on Wednesday and then made the "men against boys" comment a few hours later. He failed to regain control of his team when things boiled over again on Thursday, and a day later both he and the Cubs look like the biggest amateurs in baseball.
And therein lies the big tragedy of all this. The Cubs are trying to build a winning tradition in Chicago, and they made it abundantly clear that they're nowhere close to achieving a winning tradition.
We're talking about something that isn't necessarily tied to the team's record. The Cubs will have a winning tradition when they have a winning team, to be sure, but a big part of the process is establishing a winning culture. The Cubs have some pretty decent talent to work with going forward, but this talent won't do them any good unless everyone on board wants to win. Just as important, they need to believe that they can win.
Before the Cubs get to that point, they need to at least establish a clubhouse culture with some dignity. A winning culture is only going to be born out of a clubhouse with a dignified culture. If the Cubs are going to lose, they had better lose with a little more class.
Take what Buck Showalter has done with the Baltimore Orioles. They were an awful team when he took over in 2010, and they were an awful team again in 2011. Nonetheless, Showalter kept trying to get his players to play the game the right way. The next thing anyone knew, the O's were beating up on a loaded Boston Red Sox team last September, and this year they're staring an AL East title right in the face.
To be fair to Sveum, he has done a decent enough job in his first year as the Cubs manager for the most part. He certainly hasn't been the worst manager in baseball (see Valentine, Bobby). And no, I'm not about to call for his firing. That would be silly. I'll say this, though: Sveum proved this week that he's no Showalter.
If he was, he wouldn't have called his players "boys" in front of the press, thus sending a message to them that they're just as inferior as everyone thinks they are. And indeed, Sveum did nothing to prevent that same message from being sent again when he failed to shut up his bench coach in the fifth inning of Thursday's game. What Quirk was telling Porter, in essence, was that the Cubs simply aren't good enough to compete on a level playing field.
He may as well have been telling Porter: "Hey, take it easy! We're the Cubs, for crying out loud!" And you know what? Had Quirk actually said something like that, he would have been 100-percent correct. Evidently, the Cubs really are that hopeless.
That's obviously not what Sveum wants anyone to believe, least of all his own players. It's therefore damage control time for him now. As soon as he can, he needs to march right into his clubhouse and admit that everyone who was wearing a Cubs uniform on Thursday night shares responsibility for letting things get out of hand. They were all frustrated, and they let their frustration get the better of them.
As Bryce Harper might say, they acted like clowns, bro. After Sveum makes this clear, he needs to make a few other things clear.
Namely, he needs to make it clear that this is the big leagues. No quarter is going to be given to bad teams like the Cubs. Teams are not going to stop swinging at 3-0 pitches and stealing bases with five-run leads just because they're playing apparently hopeless opponents.
No sir. Teams like the Nationals are going to keep the pedal to the medal. Instead of whining about it, the best thing for the Cubs to do is just suck it up and try to keep pace. Essentially, the Cubs need to just play ball. And when they don't play ball well, they can't let themselves get into a habit of making excuses.
Until further notice, Sveum is right. "Boys" is a good word to describe the Cubs. Boys make excuses, and Major League Baseball is no country for boys.
The Cubs need to grow up.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.