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Of Scylla and Charybdis
by Derek Smart
There was a juxtaposition over the weekend between what is and what might have been.
On Saturday, we saw the team we've seen nearly all year. Failing to deliver in key situations, making mistakes in the game's most important moments, they sat back and hoped things would be different next time they were at bat, or next time they threw the ball.
What we were treated to on Sunday was an aggressive team. They played good defense, went after hitters in the zone, ran hard on the bases, and attacked good pitches to hit.
It's what Dusty has been preaching all year aggressiveness but we've rarely seen it properly applied during this lost season. This, I believe, is because while Dusty might be after the sort of play we saw yesterday, he hasn't the ability to properly define what he craves, to communicate his desires to his players.
It seems from a distance that there is an assumption from Dusty that his players will know what he means, that they won't twist his instructions into something that resembles his directions in part, but as a whole fails to meet the mark.
It is a classic form of mismanagement, where the leader in question issues instructions which are perfectly clear to him because they formed in his mind, yet neglects to elucidate the details to those who haven't the benefit of being inside his head. What follows is misunderstanding, defeat, and frustration - a primary theme of the Cubs' season.
The breakdown of what's not brought to light goes something like this: Dusty wants his players to be aggressive, which means playing in a style that puts pressure on the opposition. He wants the other team back on their heels.
This is something that you'll notice good teams doing, teams that always seem to be sharp and tight on the field. Think of the Cardinals of the last couple of years, and you'll know what I mean.
It isn't simply that St. Louis has had great offensive players, or that their pitching and defense have been solid or better, it's that you know in the back of your head that if an opportunity to do something positive presents itself, if you let your guard down for just a moment, they'll sneak in there and get it done.
This means that there's a certain amount of intellect in being effectively aggressive an ability to recognize true opportunity and act quickly to capitalize - and this seems to be the principal issue for the Cubs. Most times I believe they are sincerely attempting to bring this aggression to their play, but they fail to engage their minds along the way.
What occurs then is aggression for aggression's sake futile attempts to make things happen as a mindless reaction to stagnation. It is flailing. It is thrashing. It is what animals do in a state of panic.
In removing the thinking component, the team has taken Dusty's instruction to be aggressive and transformed it into an edict of recklessness.
The issue isn't just that recklessness leads to bad things, but that there is a natural reaction that follows after one is consistently burned by throwing oneself headlong into failure it is passivity.
So, because the Cubs don't instinctively understand what Mr. Baker wants from them, and because Mr. Baker is incapable of clarifying his entreaty, the team bounces between extremes doomed to disaster alternately raging and cowering - always knowing they aren't getting it right, but never knowing what needs fixing.
There is plenty of blame to spread between the players, coaches, and front office for this problem, and what the club must do over this final month of the season is figure out what needs to happen in order to make days like yesterday the norm, and days like Saturday the exception. I don't envy their task.