Before Marvel popularized Hydra as a political terror organization, the name belonged to a mythical beast slain by Heracles in the second of his 12 labors. Though playing the Cardinals conjures images of the former evil group, it’s the latter with which we’ll concern ourselves for now. If you recall, the water monster had not only poisonous breath and blood, but multiple heads filled with venomous fangs. What’s more, each time one of the Hydra’s heads was chopped off, two more would regenerate in its place.
Come to think of it, that still sounds like the Cardinals.
But if you strip away the virulent, noxious qualities, this year’s Cubs team was starting to look sort of like a mythical beast too. And not just because they’ve got a War Bear and at least two unicorns roaming the dugout, though though the loss of Kyle Schwarber factors into the whole thing. After losing their starting left fielder, the Cubs have put up with DL stints for Matt Szczur, Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, and Dexter Fowler. And Miguel Montero left Wednesday’s game with an apparent knee injury*, though he’s not expected to miss any time (relieved sigh).
All the while, they just keep shuffling players around, calling prospects up from the farm, or trading for old fan favorites to take the place of those who have fallen by the wayside. Even before his recent tweak, Montero’s obvious physical infirmity has necessitated carrying three catchers and calling Willson Contreras up just a bit ahead of schedule.
This is all a testament to the depth of the organization and also the ability and willingness of players like Kris Bryant and Javier Baez to move around the diamond as Joe Maddon sees fit. It’s not just the position players, either. Tuesday saw Adam Warren sent to Iowa to stretch out as a starter in order to subsequently stretch the Cubs’ rotation. That, combined with Clayton Richard going to the DL with blister/nail/efficacy issues, triggered the dual promotions of Spencer Patton and Gerardo Concepcion.
Finally, the Cubs did indeed land that Cuban lefty for the bullpen. And all he did was slug back that first cup of coffee and turn in 1.1 perfect innings with a pair of strikeouts.
Even as the injuries continued to mount, the Cubs’ record and division lead show no signs that they were any worse for the wear. The fear, though, and it’s not unfounded, is that a metaphorical firebrand will eventually cauterize their neck stumps and prevent those new heads from growing back. In other words, the Cubs will either run out of players or will stop having Willson Contreras hit first-swing homers. Or they’ll suffer an injury to a player who can’t be replaced.
Of course, one could take the opposite tack and argue that the rash of early injuries suffered this season points to better health down the stretch. I’m sure we’re all aware that injuries are not contagious and that teams don’t have an allotment of them for a season, but it does feel sort of BABIP-y just the same. I mean in the sense that you could reason that things should eventually end up coming back to the mean, that the pendulum would naturally swing back in the right direction when it comes to Cubs legs not falling apart.
There’s also comfort to be taken from the fact that the Cubs have the great luxury of being able to take their time with players on the mend because they’re able to readily replace them for two weeks and more. That’s not to say the maladies aren’t cause for concern, or that they won’t eventually exceed the threshold for said replacements, just that there’s no sense of needing to rush guys back to the field. Yet.
So are the Cubs a mythical beast with regenerative powers or are they the heroic demigod who eventually ends up slaying said monster? Are they the cautionary tale of the Golden State Warriors or are they the long-awaited saviors who finally brought a title to Cleveland? Seriously, people are crafting these narratives. Because basketball teams provide all kinds of parallels to baseball teams. Makes sense.
How about — and I know this is really out there, so I really appreciate you bearing with me — we discuss this Cubs team in terms of this Cubs team? Despite what Mike North continues to hammer away at, I don’t espouse the idea that the past weighs heavily on the shoulders of Joe Maddon and his charges. Sure, the title drought looms large in the eyes of the media and anyone without enough originality to come up with a better dig than “1908.” I just don’t see these players falling prey to all that mumbo-jumbo at this point.
Besides, doesn’t it feel like we’ve kinda crossed the line into absurdity at this point, like the whole 108 years thing has just dragged on so long that it’s almost not even real? I mean, I’ll probably weep like George Harrison’s guitar when they do finally win, it’s just not the Harambe everyone wants to make it out to be. And now that I’ve officially gone way off on a tangent, I’m going to bring it back in.
I know I’m not supposed to be feeling positive after being swept at home by the Cards on Jake Arrieta Day, but I can’t help it. The Cubs are uniquely set up to handle a few injuries, though accomplishing their ultimate goal would make them more slayer than monster. And as silly as it is, I still think comparing them to either Heracles or the Hydra is more accurate and productive than relating them to NBA teams. But take heart, we’ve only got a few more months of this!
*I had begun this draft Tuesday night, at which point it contained the following line regarding Montero: And though he’s not technically injured, at least not to the extent to which he needs to go on the shelf…yet. For a few hours there, I was feeling really guilty that I’d loosed the considerable power of my karmic influence to disastrous results yet again. So you can imagine my relief when it turned out to be nothing.