On a Tale of Two Baseball Teams

As I write this, the Chicago Cubs :cubs: have a record of 35 wins, 46 losses. The Washington Nationals have a similar record — 36 wins, 46 losses. The Nats are 12 1/2 games back in the National League East, the Cubs :cubs: are 10 1/2 back in the National League Central.

And yet. And yet!

I would say that the Nationals are having a great season, while the Cubs are in the midth of an epic collapse.

(On a semi-related note, while I have Nationals t-shirts and a Nationals polo shirt, I don’t have a Nationals baseball cap. But I saw the 4th of July cap the Nats were wearing yesterday and I liked the looks of it, so I ordered one. I should have it in a few weeks.)

If the Nationals and the Cubs are in similar straits in their respective divisions, with near-identical records (which will likely stay near-identical, if today’s games play out as they look like they’re going to play out), why are the Nationals great and the Cubs abysmmal?

Perception. Past history. They both explain it.

And also, the likelihood of what can happen as the season rolls on.

The Cubs are bad. They have a good rotation, they have some solid pieces in the bullpen, but the Cubs can’t hit this year for a damn — and there’s nothing in the pipeline in the minors or on the disabled list who can bring some pop at the plate in the weeks to come. The twin hopes for the Cubs are for their position players to figure out how to hit again — because when they do hit, they can put serious runs on the board — and for the team to find their inner fire — and that will probably take canning Lou Pinella.

The Nationals? They’re inconsistent. Like the Cubs, they have good pitching. Unlike the Cubs, their position players aren’t quite there. However, the Nationals do have pieces in the pipeline and on the disabled list to be reactivated in the next month, and they are entirely capable of playing .500 ball — or even better than that.

The Cubs carry greater expectations from their fanbase. Yes, the Cubs taught many of us disappointment at early ages, but they Cubs also taught us the power of hope. The Cubs also carry the century-long championship drought. That’s what makes this year’s frustrating and disastrous season — and it is a frustrating disaster — so painful. Not only has this Cubs team tasted success, but they are carrying the weight of history itself upon their back.

The Nationals don’t have that history. (Yes, they were once the Expos, but the Nationals don’t claim the Expos’ history. Instead, they view themselves as the heir of all of Washington’s baseball past, from the Senators to the Homestead Grays.) The Nationals also don’t have the fanbase. There are no myths around the Nationals, but neither are their legions of fans. No one has grown up a Nationals fan. No one expects anything from them.

It’s entirely possible that neither the Cubs :cubs: nor the Nationals will break the .500 mark this season. If the Nationals come close to that .500 mark, Nationals fans will think they’ve achieved a miracle and future success is at hand, yet if the Cubs fall short, Cubs Nation will see 2010 as a year of abject failure with no positive signs for tomorrow.

For Cubs fans, this is now a season lost. Today’s drubbing at the hands of the Reds is just the latest nail in the coffin. For Nationals fans, this season is another step on the road to respectability.

It’s all in where you start from and what you expect.

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