Photos from the game on May 16, 2017, at Wrigley Field.
The question has been lingering in the air this month like a batting practice fastball, thanks to last year’s memorable team slogan.
"Depends on whatever your definition of suck is," Anthony Rizzo said.
The dictionary definition of the slang word is "to be objectionable or inadequate." In many previous years, hanging around the .500 mark in mid-May was simply par for the course. Judging the Cubs by those standards, the answer is no.
Now that they are World Series champions and vying for a repeat, .500 is objectionable, to say the least. That’s the reality of the situation, one the Cubs never envisioned they would be in when they spent spring training hearing everyone tell them how great they were.
Then they got a ring with a goat on it, and it hasn’t been the same since.
Before Tuesday night’s game with the Reds on a balmy night at Wrigley Field, the Cubs were 13th in runs scored, 16th in on-base percentage and 20th in starting pitching. Last year they were third, second and first, respectively, in those three categories.
It hasn’t been one player, but most of the team. Heck, even the ones who left — Dexter Fowler, Travis Wood, Jorge Soler, Aroldis Chapman and others — were either struggling, injured or both. The only overachiever has been David Ross, and he’s no longer playing.
"If people want to sell low on the Cubs, sell their stock, we’ll buy," President Theo Epstein said.
Epstein added he didn’t want to "sound like I’m blind to what’s going on," but denied the Cubs are complacent or lack a sense of urgency because they’re champs. He urged fans to have faith in the players and faith in the team.
"When it’s really time to worry is when there is infighting, and for whatever reason there is some doubt about whether guys are going to face adversity the right way, and work hard to make adjustments and stay together," Epstein said. "If you have the talent, and guys care and are willing to work hard and fight through adversity, then it puts you in a position to be patient."
Patience in Kyle Schwarber, whom Epstein said is not going to be sent to the minors. Patience in the starters, whom Epstein said are coming around. And patience in a lineup full of young players who are all going through this funk at the same time.
Epstein scoffed at the idea the Cubs would be a seller at the trade deadline. It was the scoff of someone who had scoffed a time or two with the Red Sox.
Naturally, talent usually rises to the top. But we’ve seen some very talented Cubs teams fail, including in 1985 when the entire rotation was injured, and in 2004, when the players fought with the media, umpires and broadcasters Steve Stone and Chip Caray, ultimately blowing a wild-card lead in a catastrophic final week.
These Cubs don’t seem like they’re having as much fun as last year’s model, which could be traced to the departure of Fowler and the retirement of Ross. Or maybe the lack of extracurricular wackiness because the World Series — no pajama trips, magicians or animals — has affected their esprit de corps.
"Sometimes when you get caught up in a situation like this, the glare in your face all the time, you’re playing every night, and there are a lot of high expectations, whatever, I think you still can be happy," manager Joe Maddon said.
"But sometimes, some of these things, if you don’t control it properly, can subtract some of the fun. I can speak for myself. Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun. But I want them to also."
Maddon repeated his "stay (in the) today" mantra, which he admitted is "psychobabble … but it’s true."
Schwarber was getting the most heat, with some demanding he be removed from the No. 1 spot.
"Everyone keeps asking me questions about the leadoff spot," Schwarber said. "It doesn’t bother me at all."
After grounding to first on a 82 mph sinker from Bronson Arroyo in the first, Schwarber blasted a 1-0 change-up for a 462-foot homer in the second. He wound up x-for-x (with xx RBI) on the night.
Maddon repeatedly has backed Schwarber and doesn’t seem inclined to move him down in the order. As for sending him down to Triple-A Iowa, Epstein said he’s "not close to that at all."
"I can see why (people) say that," Schwarber said. "But I just have to keep going with it, knowing things are going to change. It’s tough to be in that spot."
No one said it would be easy.
Oh, wait, we all said that.