Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: A Special 30th Anniversary Retrospective of the Famous Wiffleball Clash

The World Series. The Super Bowl. The Daytona 500.

Every major sport has its own seminal event(s).

On July 2, 1989, the Walker Wiffleball League, still in its infancy, featured its own monumental contest:

The Ultimate Uncles vs. The Nuclear Nephews.

It was an epic game that addressed challenges from both sides head-on and cemented bragging rights for decades to come. The scene was buzzing. An electric atmosphere on the grounds of what would become Hank Gathers Memorial Stadium was theretofore unheard of in wiffleball – highlighted by a live performance of our national anthem, two beer commercials, stunning video production, and shit-talking galore.

In this comprehensive, uncensored 30th Anniversary recap, we will take a close look at the game itself along with input and anecdotes directly from those who participated in the glory of that July day.

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 The History

A couple years back, we visited with Chris Walker, founder of the WWL (you can view that interview here), to talk about his highly organized 3 on 3 league that featured an authentic mini-stadium, full recordkeeping, night games, and bold player nicknames like ‘Doobie” and “Buttpick” among others.

Although the league was just getting started in 1989, many felt that it needed a special event to really commemorate and celebrate the simplistic joys of wiffleball and summertime.

And settle some scores.

Rumblings of such a game were rampant for over a year, before the gauntlet was officially thrown down and agreed upon. Details are little sketchy, but the actual deal may have been struck during a family Christmas gathering in 1988. (Whether or not the discussion about the game stemmed from a certain gag-gifted toilet plunger is debatable to this day.)

“It may have been brought about at a recent family engagement,” recalls Nuclear Nephews outfielder Shawn Trusty. “It was mutually agreed upon and the Fourth of July seemed the perfect fit.”

Teams were then chosen, and the stage was set for the game as part of the upcoming Fourth of July Weekend festivities.

Ultimate Uncles vs. Nuclear Nephews: The Game

The Ultimate Uncles consisted of a grizzly mix of veteran talent. Trickster twirler William “Rollie” Walker took the bump, flanked by fleetfooted outfielders Larry Walker and Shoeless Paul “Thor” Mackey.

The younger, piss and vinegar-filled Nuclear Nephews, never ones to miss an opportunity to make a statement, countered as an elite trio. The Trusty brothers – Brian and Shawn – along with league founder Chris Walker comprised a team chock full of speed, power, and attitude.

Ok let’s face it. They were being dicks.

A perfect summer day greeted the attendees at the David Avenue grounds. As the holiday festivities that included a cookout, swimming and beer drinking gave way to an afternoon haze, the game was set to start. Opening ceremonies commenced, as Rollie Walker thrilled the throng with a stirring, Hendrix-esque rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner. Rollin and Rose Walker each threw out ceremonial first pitches, and the teams were ready to square off – save for a preordained delay whilst the Nephews cockily dashed off to the clubhouse to don their faux-Boston Red Sox uniforms.

Umpire John Trusty and cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin, himself a legendary third baseman in his day, rounded out the gameday crew.

The ground rules were explained well ahead of time, but it didn’t take long for some tempers to flare over misunderstandings regarding the provided statutes.

Umpire Trusty wasn’t about to deal with any quibbling over the rules, though.

Prior to first pitch he loudly and proudly delivered his simple edict (which was also printed on the back of his shirt): “When the ump says you’re out, you’re fucking OUT!”

“I didn’t want any questions or bullshit. I would rather have sat around and drank beers all day but fuck it.” John Trusty said.

Starting pitcher for the Nuclear Nephews, Brian Trusty, was incensed from the jump.

“I hated the way the Uncles ignored the rules, even though we gave them copies hours before the game,” he said.

Rumors that the physical copies of the rules given to the Uncles were defiantly used as kindling for the grill went largely unsubstantiated, but it nonetheless seemed to fuel a different fire – that of the game.

As the game began, it was clear that any ignorance or breaking of the rules wouldn’t matter. The Nephews set the tone early and exploded for seven runs in the first inning. Rollie Walker struggled to get outs, as the three-pronged attack from the Nephews was just too heavy. His effort ended after four innings, surrendering 18 earned runs on 19 hits.

Facing a large 18-2 deficit, it seemed the Uncles were doomed. Defensive struggles added to their uphill battle, despite the perceived outfield prowess of the L. Walker-Mackey duo.

Like the hull in Red Beckman’s boat, there were just too many holes.

Yet somehow, the light turned on and the Ultimates began to stage a furious charge.

Either their beer was getting warm, or they started to figure Brian Trusty’s pitches out, but the Uncles roared back with four runs in the fifth and five more in the sixth. Led by Mackey’s seven home run, eleven RBI barrage, (often one-handed, with a koozie’d Bud Light occupying the other), the score was now an interesting 23-11 heading to the seventh. In WWL games, even a 12-run lead was never safe.

The Uncles had officially boarded the comeback train.

“Uncle Paul was a great softball player in his day. He had a swing that generated a lot of power. His softball abilities transferred to the wiffleball field and he hit some bombs!” Shawn Trusty recounts.

Southpaw Larry Walker, on in relief for the Uncles since the fifth, had his struggles but kept the game from getting too far out of reach for the time being. The Nephews’ bats came back to life in the bottom of the seventh however, putting a five-spot on the board to once again establish comfort with a 28-11 lead.

Trusty’s day on the hill ended after 7.2 innings, having surrendered 21 hits and 12 runs. Chris Walker took the mound for the final 1.2 innings and completely shut down the Uncles; his unique submarine delivery an utter bafflement to the weary and buzzed veteran squad.

The late surge ended, and the miraculous comeback attempt was squeezed.

When the final out was recorded, the Nuclear Nephews were the 28-13 victors.

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Original box score from the game. Credit to Chris Walker.

 

Fast-forward thirty years, and with some effort, we were able to gather an esteemed panel comprised of those who made this game happen – the players and officials.

In this special no-holds-barred, tell-all segment, sparks fly.

Buckle up.

 

Alright, let’s cut the shit. How did the idea for this game really come about?

Chris Walker: My memory is fucked but we played 27 games of wiffleball in ’88 where we kept stats, so the league was operating by then. I really don’t know who is responsible for this, but I definitely would like to thank them because the fact that we did it and have video to document it is almost as cool as feeding squirrels.

Shawn Trusty: I don’t recall. It might’ve been brought about at a recent family engagement. Christmas probably.

Rollie Walker: We were challenged.

What was the process for team selection?

Shawn: Team representation was agreed upon quickly. 3 on 3 was the standard.

Chris: My guess is my dad and Uncle Larry were automatic because of the Walker name and they needed a third. Uncle Paul was the best player available. I suppose we could’ve let them bat four or five by adding Uncle John and Uncle Bruce and we could’ve had Angela and Kevin play on our team, but that was never discussed.

Rollie: We were challenged and just picked the team. You can’t have four against three, and it was at my house, so I was going to play!

Nephews – what was your strategy going into this game?

Shawn: We knew we were the better team and it was just a matter of us playing ball. The only chance the Uncles had is if one of us got injured.

Chris: Brian took it seriously and so the rest of us followed suit.

Shawn: I was and still am a very competitive person. When I’m in the midst of an athletic competition, I compete physically and verbally.

Why the Boston Red Sox-inspired uniforms?

Shawn: We had to pick an AL team as each of us were fans of the Cubs or Cardinals and all hated the Mets. We decided on the Red Sox because of players we liked. The Cleveland Indians were also considered.

Brian Trusty: Our Red Sox jersey numbers were based on their outfield of Mike Greenwell (39: me), Ellis Burks (12: Chris) and Dwight Evans (24: Shawn).

How were the umpire and cameraman chosen?

Chris: I’d like to know that as well. Like I said, I’m hazy on this being 30 years ago and really just being a 17-year old wiseass at the time.

Shawn: The roles had to be filled and there were two logical spots for the remaining uncles who weren’t playing.

John Trusty: (Shrugs). I had to do what I had to do. So fuck it.

The gameday atmosphere was extravagant, complete with an incredible rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner and not one but two beer commercials.

Chris: My dad always had something planned. How else would he have had the guitar, wig, and attire?

Brian: Grandpa [Rollin Walker] doing the Bob Uecker Miller Lite commercial was awesome.

Bruce Darin: Anything involving Pop that day was great.

Shawn: That might’ve been the 20th anniversary homage to Hendrix at Woodstock. Guitar supplied by the umpire. Grandpa impersonating Bob Uecker’s commercial was an awesome part of the day where he did his own thing, going way out into the field.

Rollie: It’s baseball so you got to have the Star-Spangled Banner to start a game. I just thought the Jimi Hendrix recording would be what I’d play. I had a wig and a guitar, so I improvised. Just acting goofy.

Rick Zelko’s “Miller Man” ad put Budweiser’s iconic “Bud Man” to shame, with him slamming a cold High Life and simply instructing viewers to go buy it.

Shawn: I like Rick and always have, and that commercial was hilarious. He was having a good time that day.

Chris: It was legendary and spontaneous which is Rick in a nutshell. I can watch that again and again (laughs).

The Miller Man commercial in all its glory can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvFgbx9jXVI

 Uncles – how did you plan to defend against the Nephews’ powerful bats, especially with a shoeless Paul Mackey roaming the outfield? Was that a hindrance at all?

Larry Walker: I tried to cover as much ground as possible. I was probably the speediest defender.

Paul Mackey: (Shrugs) I was faster than Larry because I was shoeless.

The Nephews started the game with a blistering seven-run first frame and never looked back. Talk about that initial assault.

Chris: We dominated. Those guys are fags (laughs.)

Shawn: Hard hit balls and aggressive baserunning were the keys.

Larry: Our outfield was speedy, but I didn’t expect the Nephews to come out with so much passion. Shit, I was just drinking beer at a picnic.

The Nephews plated runs in every inning but the eighth when Mackey came on in relief. Did you call off the dogs by then or was he legitimately fooling you?

Shawn: By that point he was feeling pretty good. We weren’t trying to slam more runs on the board. I’ll give Uncle Paul credit for that scoreless inning, but had he started the game, the final score wouldn’t have been any different.

Chris: No clue. He may have been mad because I was bragging about trying to buy Red’s boat.

Shoeless Paul did some serious swatting for the Uncles, with 7 of his 9 hits being home runs – many while holding a beer. What made him so tough to get out?

Brian: I could not get Uncle Paul out no matter what I threw him (laughs).

Paul: I was a tough out with my patented one beer/one-handed swing.

Chris: He had great shoeless footwork and the power became prodigious as the liquid gold continued to flow. He was a dominant softball player in those days too.

Paul: I was putting on a show for Bob Uecker in the front row (laughs).

Chris, you ended the game in relief with 1.2 innings pitched of no-hit, shutout ball, a rare feat in the WWL.

Chris: Basically, Uncle Paul was hammered by that time and my dad and Uncle Larry were probably tired and had just kind of given up. Everyone was ready to go eat potato salad.

Cameraman/commentator Bruce Darin had some salty takes throughout the game about both teams and the umpiring. What did that add to the narrative of this epic game?

Bruce: I mean, you have to have commentary to keep things interesting.

John: He did his job and I did mine. Fuck it.

Chris: It adds more than I think anyone realizes. It baffles me when I think of how it all happened but being unable to recall why it all happened that way, know what I mean? The commentator certainly wasn’t biased. Everyone was open game to his criticisms.

Shawn: The commentary was…weak. It reeked of a guy projecting his odd humor that was dripping with irony. But it was still great (laughs).

The comparison of Darin’s cinematography and gameday production to that of the legendary Arnie Harris was high praise.

Chris: Complete and utter bullshit, but it sounded good and funny at the time though (laughs). But he completed the job and I am extremely grateful that he was able to do it.

Bruce: I learned a lot from watching Cubs games on WGN in those days.

The commentator was also a big proponent of the squeeze play, which was an interesting idea given the short basepaths. Was that even allowed per league rules? Could strategy get as granular as regular baseball?

Bruce: I learned a lot from listening to Bob Uecker, too.

Shawn: Impossible for a squeeze play when all runners had to keep their foot on the base.

Chris: It would have to be a safety squeeze since you couldn’t run until contact was made. I think Doobie tried to squeeze in Buttpick from third once, but it was disallowed.

Why the hell wasn’t there ever a rematch?

Chris: I’ve always wondered why we didn’t do it (shrugs).

Shawn: Considering the shape we are in we’d probably lose a rematch.

Author’s note: I’d play this time.

 

Well, there it is folks. One tremendous ballgame many moons ago, and for three decades some of the goofy jabs have stuck around like a fart in a space suit. You may recall that Apollo Creed once told Rocky Balboa there wasn’t going to be a rematch.

But we all know how that turned out…

 

Special thanks to all who participated, and to Chris Walker for providing the official box score, and recent special edition interview content with William “Rollie” Walker, which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHFX4yFOBjc

 

 

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It Takes a Great Game 7 To End the Greatest Drought

Of course it just had to happen this way.

There they were, in the 5th inning of Game 7 in one of the best World Series of all time, with a fairly comfortable 5-1 lead and things were looking rather bright for the Cubs.

Then terror struck.

Beginning with Joe Maddon pulling starter Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the fifth at only 63 pitches and after Hendricks assumed cruising status, the domino effect rippled through Progressive Field in Cleveland. Almost immediately, the tides began to turn. A rare throwing error from David Ross and a wild pitch from Jon Lester plated two and we have a ballgame. Ross then lit up the scoreboard in the top of the 6th with a solo home run to make the game 6-3 and a little sigh of relief for the Cubs. Lester would settle in and toss three solid innings in relief before giving way to Aroldis Chapman in the bottom of the 8th.

Then terror struck again.

Chapman, already depleted from overuse the previous two games was tasked with getting the final four outs. A single by Jose Ramirez and a double by Brandon Guyer brought the score to 6-4. The next batter, Rajai Davis, drilled a strong 2-2 fastball into the left field bleachers. Game tied at 6. Oh my. Lead gone, new ballgame, and several innings of extremely questionable moves by heretofore headstrong skipper Joe Maddon. The collective angst from Cubs fans was palpable. “Is this really happening? And now of all times?”

After both teams were blanked in the ninth, it was another “but of course!” moment, and only fitting that this game go to extra innings. Right then, it was time for perhaps a little divine intervention: A rain delay. A short one that only lasted 17 minutes, but it provided enough time for the Cubs to be ushered into a small weightroom near their clubhouse and given a rousing lecture by, of all people, Jason Heyward. For anyone questioning his worth on the team, at least for the amount he is being paid, and if his defense and baserunning weren’t enough, he justified it right then and there. It turned out to be exactly what the club needed to hear and at precisely the right moment. A leadoff single by Kyle Schwarber led to a brilliant tag up by pinch runner Albert Almora, Jr. on a deep Kris Bryant flyball, a hustle play that is up to Dave Roberts’ stolen base levels of importance. Cleveland intentionally walked Anthony Rizzo, and World Series MVP Ben Zobrist doubled home Almora Jr. to reclaim the lead. Another intentional walk to Addison Russell brought up pinch hitter hero Miguel Montero who promptly singled home Rizzo to extend the lead to 8-6. The Cubs had retaken control of the game even quicker than they’d lost it, something that fans got used to seeing all season long, leading to the team mantra, “We Never Quit.”

But you guessed it, this was far from over.

Reliever Carl Edwards, Jr got the first two quick outs in the bottom of the 10th but then walked Brandon Guyer to bring up Rajai Davis again, who singled Guyer home to cut the lead to 8-7. With two outs and a man on  first, Mike Montgomery entered the game to get the final out. He did, on a Michael Martinez chopper to Kris Bryant, who, smiling the whole time, gunned the ball to Anthony Rizzo for the final out, taking 108 years worth of championship drought with it. Thank you, boys!

The whole spectacle was just fitting in typical Cubs’ fashion, having to scare the crap out of the fans one last time before making history. But it makes sense to do it this way. With a four run lead entering the late innings, the game could’ve gone somewhat vanilla. But instead, some headscratching strategic decisions led to a dramatic game-tying homer, followed by a rain delay, extra innings, an offensive explosion, lead change, another two-out rally and then lastly the historic final out. Why not? The end result was what many are calling the greatest baseball game ever played. Again, fitting to end it this way.

This was three nights ago. The victory parade and rally was yesterday, drawing an estimated 5.5 million people to the streets of Chicago in a glorious celebration over a century in the making. For Cubs fans, it’s not only a euphoric feeling of a championship long overdue, it’s vindication. It’s more than a feelgood win. It’s an F-U win. Countless generations have had to endure the ridicule, jabs (many unfriendly), and ridiculous counterarguments from people who’s only rationale was “just because.” Or, “It’s the Cubs, you just have to hate them.” Whatever. I even had one person proclaim, with honesty, that “rooting for the Cubs to lose is part of the American pastime. It’s hilarious when they choke.” Really dude? Well you can now take the Commissioner’s Trophy and stick it up your ass. All of you. 1908 is a historical fact. So is 1945, and that’s fine. But things like the goat, the black cat, Bartman, curses, choking, “when’s the last time you guys won the Series?” which always prompted the tiresome prophecies from Cubs fans of “wait til next year,” blah, blah blah, are all things that Cubs fans will never have to hear again. The haters have gone silent.

And that silence is very pleasantly deafening.

The Weird Keeps Getting Weirder

Even the unwritten rules are made to be broken.

Take a look at the way bullpens have been used by most teams this postseason for proof of that. The various ploys have worked in some cases, most recently by the Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLDS after a back and forth series battle with the Nationals. But extending some key personnel could have an effect on their NLCS date with the well-rested Cubs.

The pitching matchups will again be the focal point. The Cubs repeat their DS rotation, as Jon Lester anchors the staff with a Game 1 start vs. Kenta Maeda at Wrigley Field. Game 2 is where things get extra interesting as Kyle Hendricks takes the hill for the Cubs vs. in all likelihood, the mighty Clayton Kershaw. Hendricks exited his Game 2 start against the Giants early after taking a liner off his right forearm, but he is 100% and ready to go. Kershaw recently started Game 4 against the Nationals and then appeared out of the bullpen to close Game 5, though he only threw seven pitches in the clinching victory. Kershaw could appear on short rest for Game 5 in LA, or with full rest in Game 6 back at Wrigley. The third game then, takes place at Dodger Stadium and pits Jake Arrieta against either Rich Hill or Julio Urias, with John Lackey starting Game 4 against the other of the Hill/Urias probables.

Both bullpens will of course be factors too, as we’ve seen skippers Joe Maddon and Dave Roberts both play a lot of musical chairs with their options. One notable roster move was made by Maddon, activating LHP Rob Zastryzny as an option out of the pen to play the matchup game against the Dodgers’ several left-handed bats. Like we saw in the Cubs-Giants division series, every small play counts, particularly on defense. The Cubs have the advantage there and will need to lean on that to effectively shut down the Dodger attack. Offensively, the Cubs never fully got going in the DS, at least from some of the heavy hitters you might expect, but they managed to score runs in other ways. Not the least of which was the absolutely fantastic 9th inning comeback in the clinching Game 4. Again, it comes down to never knowing what will happen. It’s worth repeating: Playoff baseball is weird. Really, really, really weird.

So there you have it and here we are. As is well-known, anything can happen in baseball and particularly when it comes to the playoffs, things are impossible to predict. (How many people banked on a Rangers-Red Sox ALCS for example?) So strap in for an exciting series. I’m already on the edge of my seat.

Oh, and this is a side note. Actually it’s a pet peeve. Or more accurately, it’s a major psychotic hatred:

I personally am extremely superstitious in general, and about baseball in particular. I adore baseball history and folklore too. But folks, please stop talking about curses. And goats. And black cats. And all the other completely BS narratives that come with the Cubs’ World Series drought. Aside from some asinine TV commentary, most of this subject matter is spewed as little piss ant pot shots from other team’s fans, or those poor saps who like to launch some schadenfreude for their own personal glee. Enough already.

Yes, it’s a historical fact that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908. Yes, it’s another historical fact that they haven’t appeared in the World Series since 1945. That is where the facts end. All the talk about curses, goats, et. al. are nothing more than sad, wives tale excuses about why the team has unsuccessfully endeavored to return to the Fall Classic for 71 years and they have disturbingly been woven into the fabric of baseball history. Please stop perpetuating these deplorable cop-outs. It’s bad enough that too many misinformed, disrespectful people use it as endless ammo to annoy and ridicule. It will be great when that no longer will be the case.

Peace, love and baseball.

With the ’32 Title, Yanks’ Record Run Is In Full Swing

On this day in 1932, the Yankees would win their 12th consecutive World Series game, and fourth championship overall as they defeat the Cubs at Wrigley Field, 13-6.

One day after Babe Ruth’s mythical “Called Shot” home run off Cubs pitcher Charlie Root (who vehemently denied the gesture ever happened, although this still shot shows Root’s back was turned during the alleged “call” so he never actually saw it,) the Bronx Bombers would bash out 19 hits en route to the drubbing of the home team. The title would be the Yankees’ first of five championships in the decade, after earning three in the 1920’s, kicking in full gear a long streak of regular World Series appearances (52) and titles (27,) both MLB records to this day.

Sources: http://www.nationalpastime.com

http://www.baseball-reference.com

Photo Credit:

The Professor Runs a Strict Class

Before the season began, my prognosis for Kyle Hendricks was simple: That he could be one of the most effective number five starters in all of baseball.

As of September 13, he’s one of the best starters in all of baseball, period.

“The Professor” as he has come to be known from his intensely cerebral preparation before each start, and surgical-like approach to every pitch, has been nothing short of stellar this season. In his most recent start, Hendricks took a no-hitter into the ninth inning in St. Louis, before having an 0-2 pitch blasted into the right field bleachers by Jeremy Hazelbaker. Though his date with baseball history was, for the time, postponed, the shine on yet another dominant performance was hardly dulled. It was his 20th consecutive start giving up three or fewer runs, adding to his MLB-low ERA of 2.03.

Far from a power arm, Hendricks employs scholastic tactics to outwit opposing hitters, with a a variety of speeds (though he rarely tops 90mph on his fastball), and precision locating. The result is a chess match which, more often than not, the Dartmouth alum wins.

Predictions be damned.

The whispers of Hendricks joining the Cy Young Award conversation have now become screams, and for good reason. In addition to his staggering ERA and constant ability to get his team deep into games, Hendricks’ latest win was the 30th of his career and 15th of the season, putting him squarely among the league leaders in that more-sexy-than-vital category. In all, it adds up to a brilliant season for the young right-hander, drawing him more and more comparisons to hall of famer Greg Maddux every day. While that is certainly high praise and a lot of hyperbole given that Maddux did Maddux things for 23 years while Hendricks is only in his third, the approach and execution are certainly comparable.

With a Central Division title nearly within the Cubs’ grasp, followed by the playoffs, it’s sure to be an exciting fall for The Professor and his class.

All In: A Gutsy Trade for a Maligned Closer

The blockbuster trade between the Cubs and Yankees which landed controversial closer Aroldis Chapman in Chicago in exchange for a hefty load of quality prospects has created quite a stir to say the least.

I won’t get into the details, or offer any opinions on Chapman’s offseason situation which has created the moral and ethical disdain with which he is largely viewed, but rather try and interpret this trade objectively. First of all, this is a gutsy, “go for it” move by the Cubs, and it makes them better in the here and now. An elite, extremely talented reliever like Chapman not only fills a glaring need, it also solidifies the bullpen as a whole by slotting guys down. Furthermore, it prevents Chapman from ending up on another team’s, possibly a playoff competitor’s, roster. Would you rather face a guy like him with a game on the line, or have him pitching for you?

In exchange, the Cubs had to part with their top prospect Gleyber Torres, highly regarded minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, and big league swingman pitcher Adam Warren. This may sound like a lot to give up for a rental, but here we see one of the main benefits of the Cubs’ efforts to stockpile their farm system with capable, talented players: Trade chips. The Yankees made out extremely well in this deal, getting Warren back who was very effective for them both in starting and relief roles last year, and a slew of young talent which will be ready for the big club in the very near future as they reload. On the Cubs’ end, both Torres and McKinney were more or less blocked on the big league roster for the foreseeable future. That’s not to say they were expendable per se, just that their upward path was a little less clear with the young core in place on the big club. Warren, for his part, simply did not work out as the Cubs had hoped. In short, this is a win-win trade for both teams from a baseball perspective. Even if the Cubs overpaid for Chapman, well, so what? They overpaid for Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist too. But in today’s game with the incredibly high dollar figures attached to player value, it’s less about overpaying and more about fit. To that extent, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have not missed on too many puzzle pieces to this point.

Not all fans are happy with this trade of course, almost exclusively due to the domestic violence accusation Chapman received last winter. Such a situation and the various amounts of circumstantial evidence paints a bleak picture and is counterintuitive to the type of positive character stipulations that the Cubs organization has sought to uphold in recent years. But if Cubs fans who are understandably upset from that perspective can temper their cognitive dissonance and realize that this move made the team better, on the field that is, then all parties should be satisfied. At least to some degree.

This trade is aggressive, it serves a need, and it shows that this is really it – the Cubs are all in and are legitimately going for it right now. If it works, it’s brilliant. If not, it’s bad. But the gamble ensures the rest of the 2016 season should be interesting ’til the living end.

24 in 24 Has Been a Rough Ride

Beginning back on June 17, the Cubs entered a brutal stretch of 24 games in 24 days, with the bulk of those on the road. With six games remaining in that block, it’s been a far from enjoyable marathon.

The 24-game batch got off to a roaring start with a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. But then St. Louis rolled into town on June 20, sweeping the Cubs in three, and triggering the first four-game losing streak for the Northsiders, capped off by a loss at Miami. After dropping two out of three to the Marlins, the Cubs rebounded with a road sweep of the hapless Reds, only to then be decimated in four straight by the Mets. The Reds came into Wrigley and extracted a little revenge, grabbing two out of three, bringing us up to the current date, a day after the Atlanta Braves steal a win at Wrigley in a makeup game from April.

In all, the Cubs have managed just a 5-13 record in their last 18 games, including two separate four-game losing streaks. What is happening here?

In short, they look tired. It’s no excuse, but over the last few weeks, certain things are very noticeable. First and foremost, the starting pitching, which has been the bread and butter all season, is not nearly as sharp. One through five in the rotation have become prone to ineffectiveness, high pitch counts, walks, and giving up home runs. A lot of home runs in fact. In various times during this stretch the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds and Mets have all bashed Cubs pitchers to 7+ runs in a game. Much of the defense hasn’t looked as sleek-footed either, adding to the struggles. Part of this conundrum can be traced to who’s behind the plate. While rookie phenom Willson Contreras has performed very well in his limited time, it’s a still a small sample size to this point. Miguel Montero has struggled mightily all season both in the field and behind the plate, and with a long stint on the DL one may wonder if he’s been really hurt all season. That leaves 39-year-old David Ross, who has been highly touted this year, and for good reason. The simple fact is the best version of this Cubs team, at least defensively, is when Ross is on the field. The snag there is you just can’t play Ross daily, and now he’s on the 7-day DL for concussion protocol. With a history of concussions in his career, there’s no telling how another bell-ringing could affect ‘ol Gramps.

Offensively there has been a lot of inconsistency as well. Whether that’s partially due to injuries (Dexter Fowler’s absence has been extremely impactful) or virtually a new lineup every day,  it’s hard to tell. There have been some bright spots: Rookies Albert Almora Jr, and Willson Contreras have begun their MLB careers with distinction, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to slug well.

The good news: The Cubs still hold an 8 game lead in the NL Central, and are 19 games over .500 for the season. As we’re seeing, it’s great they got off to such a roaring start and built that cushion, because things change faster than people think in the game of baseball. More good news: All the above is correctable. Players will get healthy, pitching and defense can get sharper, and the bats can find consistency. It’s not a question of if.

There’s a whole half of baseball left to be played. Besides, I’m sure most Cubs fans would rather they struggle in June-July than September-October, right?