Starting pitching? Nah. Inability to drive in runners in scoring position? Pssht. Injuries? Fuggedaboutit. What about Joe Maddon, John Mallee, or Jaron Madison? No, the Cubs’ mediocre record can be laid squarely at the feet of one Theo Nathaniel Epstein. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, listen to the man himself.
“I am responsible for this team being under .500,” Epstein declared on the Spiegel and Parkins Show Friday afternoon. “That’s the bottom line. And so I shouldn’t be in a good mood right now. When there’s work to do to get us back there, I shouldn’t be in a good mood. I should be working my tail off.”
He certainly did seem a little brusque yesterday, though that was probably more about being crammed into the dugout to address trade speculation while being jammed in the ribs with a boom mic. The Cubs president was decidedly less curt as he lounged in the bleachers for the radio spot prior to the game with the Pirates.
“You guys are over-analyzing that big time,” Epstein said when asked if the lack of “edge” he had mentioned recently was a managerial issue. “It’s simply…we’re really talented and we’re not playing well. It’s as simple as that. So of course if you went guy to guy to guy in that clubhouse, no one’s happy with the way we’re playing and we need to find a way to play better.
“It’s as simple as that. Joe’s not doing anything different this year than he did last year. It’s nothing to do with that whatsoever. We just haven’t found a way to play consistent, winning baseball and we have a lot of talent, so that’s frustrating.”
As much as we tend to think of professional athletes as automatons who require no rest from the trials and travails of a long season — wait, that’s not “we,” that’s one particular writer who I won’t mention and whose name does not sound at all like “Mick Rorrissey” — that’s simply not true. To that end, this isn’t as simple a matter as just sending a talented group onto the field, rolling the ball out, and having them win 100 games.
“We’re dealing with human beings, we’re dealing with human beings. It would be a lot simpler if we weren’t and it wouldn’t be as much fun. But we’re dealing with human beings, so we have to find a way to get better performances out of guys and as a team and as an organization. This isn’t where we should be. We won 200 games over the last two years. We won the World Series largely with this group.
“There’s no fingers pointing, no lack of effort or desire, it’s just the way we’re going about it right now isn’t producing winning baseball, so we need to find another way to go about it to play winning baseball.”
Maybe that other way involves adding some new players. Trades are always a big topic this year with fans and media alike, but the reality of the market is never quite as simple as internet chatter would like to make it.
“We’d love to provide help,” Epstein admitted. “And we’re working hard every single day. We might make a trade, we might make three huge trades, we might make no trades, we might make two small trades. We don’t know. You have no idea what the marketplace is going to be.
“But the answer to what ails the 2017 Cubs, why we haven’t played well, has nothing to do with what we’re going to go do in trades.”
Wait, I think we need to hear that again. Yeah, maybe that bears repeating, but with a little more specificity.
“The answer’s not going to be from some crazy trades and the bottom line is that when you have guys who aren’t performing well, you start trading core guys when their value’s down because they’re not performing well. You compound a bad first half of the season and make dramatic long-term organizational decisions, and that’s not what we want to do. I’m trying to get the emphasis off July 31 and on what we can all do collectively.”
On the flip side of all of the talk about who the Cubs can get to make them better is the nigh-unthinkable possibility that they could become sellers at the deadline. Wade Davis and Jake Arrieta, two guys whose contracts are up at the end of the season and who probably won’t be back next year, stand out as options.
“I can’t foresee [being sellers],” Epstein said. “But, frankly I wouldn’t have foreseen being under .500 a week into July either. So if things take a horrible turn from here, I guess anything’s possible. But realistically, we’re in it. There’s virtually no scenario I can envision in which we’re sort of…in which we wave the white flag on the season. I could not see that, not with this group, not where we are.”
It all comes down to the Cubs playing to their potential and doing the things they’re capable of doing. And that’s the edge Epstein spoke of, that ability to go out there and collectively pounce on teams. Now they just need to find it.
“We haven’t played well yet, and that’s disappointing. And all of us together are working hard to try to figure it out.”
Though it’s only one game, Friday felt like a nice step in that direction.