Originally posted on World Series Dreaming  |  Last updated 8/11/13
Let us begin this one with a Tweet:   No #Cubs in top 4! WOOT! RT @BillShaikin Most errors, MLB: #Brewers 89, #Astros 87, #Angels 85, #Dodgers 84. — Rice Cube (@CubicSnarkonia) August 12, 2013   So that’s good, right? In fact, when I looked at the error “leaderboards,” the Chicago Cubs weren’t even in the top 10 in errors.  They are actually tied with the Philadelphia Phillies at 75 apiece, after the Phillies had yet another error in Stephen Strasburg‘s first complete game shutout (something that I didn’t think was possible, not because Strasburg isn’t awesome, but because he’s NEVER pitched in the ninth inning before today!) and the Cubs’ new Mike Fontenot clone, Donnie Murphy, had an error at third base.  The interesting thing is that everyone’s favorite whipping boy these days, Starlin Castro (especially now that perennial targets Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are gone), only has 15 errors this season after having 27+ over his first three seasons.  Castro’s scuffling offensively but is in a bit of a groove lately, but his improving defense is actually very nice to behold. That leads us into the term “cognitive dissonance.”  In this day and age, the focus on the Cubs for us has shifted away from the major league club (though we’re still obviously paying attention) to the boys in the minors that are doing exciting things and to the improvements at Wrigley Field that are forthcoming if the neighbors and Tom Tunney would stop being festering cumbuckets.  We know that Tom Ricketts has a plan (albeit executed clumsily) to get more money to Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer, who are doing their best to turn the Cubs into one of the best franchises in the majors.  So far so good on those levels. Where the dissonance comes in is the major league Chicago Cubs, which is what everyone ultimately wants to see succeed.  Briefly, a definition of cognitive dissonance: The theory of cognitive dissonance in social psychology proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing cognitions, adding new ones to create a consistent belief system, or alternatively by reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.[1] Cognitive dissonance is the distressing mental state that people feel when they “find themselves doing things that don’t fit with what they know, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.”[4] A key assumption is that people want their expectations to meet reality, creating a sense of equilibrium.[5] Likewise, another assumption is that a person will avoid situations or information sources that give rise to feelings of uneasiness, or dissonance.[1]   That was a mouthful, and there are many ways to take this, but I want to go about this from the standpoint of the Chicago Cubs of 2013 and their steady improvement from 2012 whether you believe it or not.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but with a new prospect making the highlight reels every night for the Cubs’ minor league affiliates, you have to get at least a little excited that at least one of these guys is going to make an impact either as a Chicago Cub or as something that will be traded for a new Chicago Cub. People get a bit miffed at the offense sputtering at times or the bullpen coughing up late leads, but those are just growing pains since those very same people will admit that most of these guys aren’t going to be Cubs when the team actually contends.  What I do like (and you can take a look at the B-Ref pages if you wish) is that the post-trade deadline bullpen, when the right guys are used in the right spots, actually does its job, even though you couldn’t really tell from today because Hector Rondon still has to work out his issues.  I like that the starting pitching usually eats innings and keeps the team in the game long enough for them to steal a few (evidenced by the marginally better one-run record and the amount of frustration Cubs fans display nightly).  They haven’t been blown out as much, which is good too.  And even though I will stop short of guaranteeing it, it’s highly unlikely that guys like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro will suck on offense forever.  Rizzo, in fact, is hitting for major power (Tyler Colvin style) and also getting on base better than Colvin did.  That helps a ton for a guy who is struggling batting average-wise.  Even the great Beef Castle, Welington Castillo, is quietly becoming a capable catcher on offense and defense.  I also implicitly trust the ability of Epstein and Hoyer to pluck value out of nothing at all, with most of their signings turning in valuable performances or value in trade.  There’s something to look forward to. But what about now?  And that is where the dissonance comes in.  Last season, even earlier than now, I wrote about how the team shouldn’t worry too much about losses.  There was a point early on when we thought that the Cubs might have a snowball’s chance in hell of contending, but that moment has passed.  Why would a Cubs fan think that losing is okay, though?  Well, it has to do with context.  If you’re not going to get to the playoffs, and with the CBA effectively ending rampant overslot spending, the draft position and the slot money associated with that position matters a bunch.  As of tonight, the Cubs are tied with the Phillies and the San Francisco Giants (two teams that weren’t supposed to suck so hard, mind you) for the fifth-worst record in the majors.  The Cubs have the “advantage” of having sucked ass in 2012, so they hold the draft tiebreaker over everyone except the Houston Astros. Brief interlude: if you’re looking for a massive tank job with a purpose, look no further than the Astros, headed by deceptively brilliant GM Jeff Luhnow.  That guy has a plan and the American League West has to be looking over their shoulders sooner than they think.  Tanking so hard three years running to get the top pick has its potential rewards; the Washington Nationals snagged Strasburg and Bryce Harper back-to-back. Anyway, there’s almost no chance that the Cubs can catch the Miami Marlins, Chicago White Sox or the Astros.  Those teams take sucking to Hoover-like levels.  But they might still leapfrog the Milwaukee Brewers for the #4 pick in the 2014 draft.  There’s a chance that the White Sox or Marlins heat up while the Cubs go into a tailspin especially with the schedule coming up, but these 2013 Cubs have improved so that isn’t likely either.  And there’s some joy in saying that the Cubs aren’t in last place even if it still means no October baseball in Chicago. I for one simply hope that the Cubs keep their position in the top ten for a few reasons.  One, they keep a protected first-round pick and the associated money if they decide to go balls out and sign a guy like Robinson Cano.  Two, if they drop out, they are less likely to sign marquee free agents should they become available (chances are slim that they’d re-sign Matt Garza, for example).  And three, dropping out means that they can pick no earlier than 12th due to the Toronto Blue Jays being unable to sign their #10 pick this year. Does this mean I’m actively rooting for the Cubs to lose?  Of course not.  I rejoiced in the fact that they played spirited baseball against their biggest rival.  I guess that’s the cognitive dissonance; I want them to do well enough not to suck as bad as last year, or the Milwaukee Brewers, but not so much that they lose their protected pick because that will result in a slight hiccup in the rebuilding process.  We at WSD have a theory that the Cubs may be done aggressively rebuilding and will now work on the “building up” part of the plan, where they start filling in holes around their core rotation and their young offensive stars in Beef Castle, Rizzo, Castro and maybe Junior Lake.  There are a couple interesting guys in Tennessee and Iowa that might see call-ups in 2014.  I want to win.  But I don’t want to win so bad that it compromises the big picture in any way.  It’s okay to feel a bit disappointed that the Cubs lose (they are our favorite team, after all) but trust that there’s a method to the madness.  The players are still doing their best, it’s just that the talent isn’t matching the effort yet. And that concludes tonight’s cognitive dissonance.
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