Need to get your comedy fix? Well, instead of tuning in to the Blue Collar Comedy Tour on Comedy Central or looking up images of LOLcats on the Internet, you should turn your attention to baseball, wherein the two worst teams in the National League will square off for an agonizing four days in the Windy City.
Hahahahahaha. Oh wait ... that wasn't the joke yet. Sorry.
The Cubs, despite having a fairly competent pitching staff, enter Monday with the worst record in the NL -- a half-game above the Rockies -- and are 15½ games out of first place in the Central division. Part of the reason for that is a horrible offense; Cubs hitters have combined for an OPS+ of just 85. But beyond that, two of the three best starting pitchers on the team were dealt to the Athletics within the last month, leaving some rather large shoes to fill.
Jeff Samardzija (138 ERA+) and Jason Hammel (132 ERA+) make up the departed duo, but neither even held a candle to out-of-nowhere ace Jake Arrieta. The 28-year-old right-hander, who achieved top prospect billing in Baltimore but never lived up to the hype, immediately found success upon arriving in the NL last year and has been one of the best pitchers in the league this year. The 2007 fifth-round draft pick owns a 2.18 ERA/180 ERA+ in 15 starts and has whiffed 99 batters while walking only 26 in 91 innings. Arrieta was late hitting his prime, but if he pitches anywhere close to this level over the next couple of seasons before he hits free agency, the Cubs should be quite formidable once top prospects Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Addison Russel, et al, reach the big leagues.
Waiting for the prospects will be an already formidable group of young players headlined by All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who owns a team-best 149 OPS+ on the strength of a .284/.389/.528 line and 25 home runs. Twenty-two-year-old second baseman Arismendy Alcantara (107 OPS+) and 24-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro (he's really only 24?!) are an intriguing middle-infield duo going forward.
So, yes, the Cubs might be the laughingstock of baseball now, but that shouldn't be the case for too much longer (although, in all fairness, they are the Cubs). The rebuilding plan orchestrated by former Red Sox braintrust Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer seems to be close to paying off, and if it does, it should be a plan that other NL teams -- such as the one Denverites call their own -- should take notice.
But until then, laugh away. These are still the FailBears. And, of course, their opponent for the week is still our lovable purple-clad losers. There will be sloppiness. There will be tears. There will be pain. There will be blown leads. There will likely be wind-aided home runs, balls lost in ivy and shirtless bums in the outfield bleachers. Yohan Flande and Chad Bettis; Edwin Jackson and Carlos Villanueva. Come on. It'll be fun!
Editor's Note: SB Nation's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Baseball league for tonight's MLB games. It's $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Here's the link; jump in now!
Game 1: Monday, July 28 at 6:05 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Yohan Flande vs. Tsuyoshi Wada
Game 2: Tuesday, July 29 at 6:05 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports, WGN)
Jorge De La Rosa vs. Edwin Jackson
Game 3: Wednesday, July 30 at 6:05 p.m. MT (ROOT Sports)
Brett Anderson vs. Travis Wood
Game 4: Thursday, July 31 at 12:20 p.m. MT (No TV)
Tyler Matzek vs. Jake Arrieta