Column: Early return on Chicago Cubs is somewhere between dominant and a heartbreak in progress

It’s 101 days until Aug. 1, the presumed start of the Caleb Williams era with the Bears in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.

That’s a long time for the Cubs to carry the hopes of Chicago sports fans on their backs.

The United Center will be shuttered for the Bulls and Blackhawks, our two winter teams that ended their seasons this week in utter disappointment and apathy, respectively.

White Sox Park will be mostly empty as baseball fans studiously avoid watching perhaps the worst team in Chicago history, while the Sky are starting a total rebuild.

That leaves Wrigley Field as the only real destination for entertainment the next few months, assuming the Cubs can keep things interesting until Williams’ much-hyped arrival.

Three weeks into the season, it’s still anyone’s guess.

The Cubs beat the Miami Marlins 5-3 on Saturday night at Wrigley Field to split a doubleheader with a franchise that waved the white flag over the winter.

After Adbert Alzolay coughed up a one-run ninth-inning lead in the opener, his fourth blown save in seven chances and the Cubs’ sixth in their first 10, Shota Imanaga pitched six strong innings and the Cubs offense awoke just in time against a pitcher who posted a 10.97 ERA in three games in Triple A and was making his big-league debut.

Cody Bellinger and Alexander Canario homered, and the Cubs scored four sixth-inning runs to take control on a windy, 42-degree night in Wrigleyville. Hector Neris registered his first save as a Cub with a scoreless ninth inning, perhaps auditioning for a new role.

Photos: Chicago Cubs lose to Miami Marlins 3-2 in Game 1 of a doubleheader

What kind of team the Cubs really have is open to debate. It’s a glass-half-full scenario.

“You’re what your record is,” manager Craig Counsell said matter-of-factly before the doubleheader.

In that case the Cubs were on pace before Sunday to win 100 games, which seems almost as unlikely as the bullpen’s early pace to post 46 blown saves.

They’re somewhere between dominant and a heartbreak in progress.

Imanaga’s performance wasn’t quite as eye-opening as his previous three starts, when he didn’t allow an earned run. But he improved to 3-0 and gave up only two earned runs on five hits, with five strikeouts and no walks. His streak of 18 1/3 innings of not allowing an earned run to start his Cubs career was the third longest in franchise history behind Bill Lee (19 innings in 1934) and Larry Cheney (27⅔ innings in 1911-12).

Imanaga said through an interpreter that he struggled a bit, but the only really hard-hit balls off him were an RBI double from Tim Anderson in the fourth and a home run from Josh Bell in the sixth.

“My good pitches, when I’m executing, they’re fouling off, or they’re just taking,” he said. “The pitches that the quality is not good, they’re being hit.”

A sweep of the Marlins in a four-game series might have been asking for a lot, but this team came into Saturday with a 4-16 record, so many Cubs fans expected it. The Cubs can still take the series Sunday and then face a struggling Houston Astros team next week.

“The season doesn’t give you what you want,” Counsell said. “You’ve got to go halfway with what the game offers you sometimes. We overcame a tough loss today and played a nice game.”

Cubs DH Garrett Cooper said Marlins rookie starter Roddery Munoz kept them off balance until Canario’s leadoff home run knocked him out in the sixth. The Cubs then garnered four hits in five at-bats off reliever Anthony Bender, including a two-run, go-ahead single by Michael Busch and Cooper’s RBI single that made it 5-3.

“That’s what you do, you pick up your teammates,” Cooper said, referring to Alzolay’s loss in Game 1. “There are ups and downs, and the downs can be pretty bad if you take it too emotionally. Coming off that early loss, we came out a little flat, but we picked it up toward and the end and capitalized with a win.”

The Cubs were without Ian Happ, who suffered hamstring tightness in Friday’s game. Counsell said Happ might sit Sunday as well, with Monday’s off day providing extra time to heal. Canario had some shaky moments in left but didn’t make any mistakes.

Cubs fans spent most of the night trying to keep warm and booing Anderson, apparently for the crime of being a former White Sox player. They even booed him after the bat slipped out of his hand during one at-bat and sailed to the backstop.

At least one Marlins player was providing some entertainment.

Cooper, a former Marlin, is somewhat appalled by what he has seen happen to a team that won 84 games in 2023 and lost a wild-card series to the Philadelphia Phillies. He blames upper management for not supporting Skip Schumaker, one of the best young managers around.

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“When I first got traded over there (in 2018) they kind of sold everybody off and started fresh,” Cooper said. “And it kind of feels like they’re doing the same thing now. They didn’t spend any money this offseason coming off a playoff berth. It’s tough for the city, tough for the fans. You’d like to see a team that made the playoffs build on something like that, and it’s kind of a slap in the face to the fans that support the team.

“It’s a rough time to be a (Marlins) fan right now.”

It might be a good time to be a Cubs fan, depending on whether the bullpen can avoid blowing games every few days, like the ones in San Diego and Arizona and Game 1 on Saturday. All three were on Alzolay.

But at least they’ve been able to come back after those terrible losses and not let them linger, as they did in the first few months of 2023, when they fell 10 games under .500 by mid-June.

“Every game is a new adventure and a new journey, and we did a nice job bouncing back today,” Counsell said.

New adventures at old Wrigley.

Stay tuned for next week’s episodes.