CHICAGO — “Bipolar Cubs” is one of those rare Joe Maddon-created terms that won’t be used to sell T-shirts for his favorite charity.
But it’s a more apt description of the 2019 season than “Everybody In,” the tired marketing department slogan from 2018 that should’ve ended with the wild-card loss in October.
Maddon was referring to the Cubs’ freakish home-road disparity when he called them bipolar, pointing out the manic-depressive nature of a season defined by bliss at home and blues on the road.
The Cubs finished up a 5-1 homestand Wednesday with a 10-1 win over the Athletics, improving to 41-19 at Wrigley Field. They now travel to Cincinnati to begin a 10-game trip, hoping to turn around their 21-33 road record — which includes 26 losses in their last 36 games away from home.
Players are sick of answering questions about the road-kill rap, as Anthony Rizzo revealed Wednesday when asked after the game why the Cubs can’t play like that on the road.
“Why can’t we? We can,” he said. “We do play like this on the road.”
The up-and-down play has caused Cubs fans, who already had a reputation for being alarmists in bad times and delirious in good times, to take up their game a notch.
During homestands like this one, they’re planning the playoff rotation, which currently looks like Kyle Hendricks in Game 1, followed by Cole Hamels, Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish.
But when the Cubs are on the road, they’re busy choosing Maddon’s successor, which currently looks like “Grandpa” David Ross, Mark DeRosa or a lovable ex-Cub to be named later.
The only way to stop this madness is to start winning on the road, which the Cubs can accomplish over the next 11 days in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Williamsport, Pa., where they will play the Pirates in the nationally televised game promoting the Little League World Series.
If they go 8-2 or 7-3, everyone will shut up … at least for a second or two.
“We’ve just got to win a couple games,” Rizzo said. “That’s it. So everyone from the top on down can settle down.”
“The top” would be Cubs President Theo Epstein, who said Friday they were “embarrassed” by not winning a road series since mid-May or against a division opponent all year. The last road series win was in Washington on May 17-19, nearly three months ago.
“As talented as we are, if we don’t fix that, we aren’t going anywhere,” Epstein said. “So it’s a huge priority for us.”
Epstein apparently was sending a message to the team, which is what management does when it’s upset with results.
“I know, we see it,” Rizzo said. “We try to keep everything internal in here. We obviously don’t like it though.”
Rizzo said the losing is not a psychological block the Cubs have built up over the course of the season, even though Javier Baez said last week the team does feel more pressure on the road because of the poor record.
Whatever the reason, Epstein declared that “trying the same thing over and over again is not working” and that the Cubs would “try some different things to improve our performance” on the road.
The biggest statistical difference has been the pitching. The Cubs have a 4.72 road ERA, 18th in the majors, compared with a 3.37 home ERA, fourth through Tuesday.
But maybe fixing it has more to do with the Zen factor than any statistical variance.
So what can the Cubs do to shake things up?
Wacky theme trip anyone? Next week is the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, and Maddon once had a Woodstock-themed road trip with the Rays in 2014.
But it’s probably too late to get a tie-dye guy in Cincinnati, and despite all the publicity the Cubs get when they dress up for road trips, it seldom translates to wins. According to a Tribune analysis of the theme trips over the last five years, the most successful was the Minimalist Zany Suit trip in May 2016, when the Cubs went 3-0 in Pittsburgh to start an eight-game winning streak.
Even the original Onesies trip in 2015, made famous by Jake Arrieta appearing in his onesie at his postgame news conference after throwing a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, ended with a 2-5 record. The Anchorman trip in 2017 resulted in an 0-6 record. The Miami Vice trip of 2016 finished at 4-7, and this year’s Dress Like Jon Lester trip in June ended with a pitiful 2-5 record, with Lester losing his only start.
If that’s a non-starter, maybe the Cubs could begin American Legion week a bit early. Maddon said last weekend he would have his annual American Legion week — when players show up to the clubhouse whenever they feel like it — during the next homestand Aug. 20-25. But if you really want to make the road feel like home, put the home clubhouse rules into effect now and see if players can relax more.
Or perhaps the Cubs can cater the visiting clubhouse with some Lou Malnati’s pizza, Al’s Italian Beef sandwiches and Garrett’s popcorn to make it smell more like Chicago. Or maybe import some of the ivy from the Wrigley Field walls and give them that Wrigley aura they crave.
Just spitballing here, as I have no clue either. If you have a solution, please send it to Epstein, Maddon, Tom Ricketts or anyone else who can implement change. Because as sick as the Cubs are of hearing about the problem, the questions won’t go away until they do something about it.
“We’ve got to do better on the road,” Rizzo said. “It’s no secret.”
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