Imrem: Signs not looking good for Chicago Cubs
All the Chicago Cubs' troubling signs were evident Wednesday afternoon at San Francisco.
They went beyond losing a game 3-1, squandering a three-game series 2-1 to the 46-70 Giants and falling to 59-54 on the season.
As you might have noticed -- and as the TV team of Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies pointed out -- Cub batters declined at least three times to bust it out of the batter's box.
What would be more of a sign that players don't have their heads in the right place than disrespecting manager Joe Maddon's "Respect 90" mantra?
Then almost predictably the way things are going, hot-hitting Willson Contreras did bust it down the line and ended up limping to first base and out of the game.
The World Series hangover many refer to is evident, but it has little to do with what the Cubs are doing at the ballpark. Just about every athlete attacks the field of play when competitive juices urge them to do whatever it takes to win.
The hangover has more to do with how committed players are away from the ballpark … starting back at home during the off-season.
Even champions, maybe especially champions, change from year to year. Some get married, some get divorced, some have kids, some have business opportunities, some have personal issues, some have contract issues, some have issue issues.
It's easy for them to be distracted from their jobs, to think less about the game than they were, to be less consumed by it.
Attention to detail suffers. Fundamentals are fudged. Sloppiness sets in.
Blurred focus is the only explanation for the sloppy play that has even ever-optimistic Maddon lamenting his team's declining defense and bad at-bats.
We in Chicago speak from experience on the subject since the White Sox won the 2005 World Series and didn't make the playoffs the next season.
Early in '06, I asked then-Cardinals manager Tony La Russa what possibly could keep the Sox from repeating after trading Aaron Rowand to Philadelphia and receiving slugging Jim Thome in exchange.
Otherwise, the Sox were mostly the same team that raced through the regular season, playoffs and World Series but missed the postseason the next season.
La Russa brought up hunger … teams don't repeat because they aren't as hungry as they were the previous season.
Have the 2017 Cubs struck you as being as hungry as they were in 2016?
Early in that same '06 season, I asked Jorge Posada, who played on three consecutive New York Yankees championship teams, what the key was to repeating.
The Yanks' catcher said it was arriving at spring training in the right mindset to reach Opening Day ready to go.
Do the Cubs strike you as being ready from the start of the season?
At least the Sox won 90 games in the 2006 regular season, and the Cubs don't appear inclined to go 31-18 from here to reach that total.
OK, so championship hangovers are a reason for only one National League team repeating as World Series champs during the past 95 years.
Now the question is whether the Cubs -- or any team -- over a season's final 49 games can regain the focus that won a World Series the previous season.
The Cubs give no indication they will and Milwaukee, St. Louis and Pittsburgh all are lurking to take advantage of the fallout.