CLEVELAND — “I am a badass.”
That’s how Tsuyoshi Wada began his postgame media session, delivering a message in English while standing at his locker inside Progressive Field’s visiting clubhouse.
Wada didn’t really know what that means — Cubs manager Joe Maddon told him to say it — but it worked after throwing seven innings in a 17-0 win over the Cleveland Indians. The Japanese lefty knew he nailed the line when he saw the reporters burst into laughter.
Yes, the Cubs are feeling pretty good about themselves at 35-28. They wore out the Indians (30-34) with 18 hits, forcing Cleveland manager Terry Francona to use nine pitchers, including position players Ryan Raburn and David Murphy.
This is the time for Theo Epstein to keep following his killer instincts.
The Cubs president of baseball operations has already shown what he thinks of this team by giving Jon Lester a $155 million contract, not playing Super Two games with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, signing former All-Star closer Rafael Soriano and fast-tracking Kyle Schwarber from Double-A Tennessee to The Show.
“I don’t believe in labels like necessarily ‘buyers’ or ‘sellers,’” Epstein said. “But I think we’re always looking for ways to improve this team. We’re clearly in contention, and you can’t take that for granted.
“So whether it’s a minor-league signing here, or putting a prospect in a certain role there in order to help the big-league team, those are things that you do when you’re in contention and have a relevant season.
“We definitely won’t sit back. We’re going to examine every possible opportunity and work hard to try to improve this team as we go.”
While the Cubs have been connected to bigger names that would help their bullpen (Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon) and everyday lineup (Oakland A’s super-utility guy Ben Zobrist), the rotation should be a priority.
Wada — who’s now 1-for-6 in quality starts — understood what’s at stake after earning his first win this season and slicing his ERA from 4.84 down to 3.68.
“Step by step, every outing should be better each time,” Wada said through translator Nao Masamoto, the major-league video coordinator and Pacific liaison. “And then, hopefully, I will be able to say ‘badass’ again.”
Since Lester’s “dead arm” in spring training, the rotation has stayed relatively healthy, with the Cubs using only six starters through almost 40 percent of the season. But it’s not realistic to think this group will remain injury-free or become automatic for October.
“Often, pennant races can be won or lost based on who has the best starting depth,” Epstein said. “Frankly, that’s not an area of strength for us right now. So if you asked (what’s the) one single thing we’re spending most of our time on — besides urgent matters that come up — it’s sort of game-planning how to establish a little bit more starting depth right now. We’re going to need it.”
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The Cubs are stuck in the middle of a top-heavy division and trailing the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates — combined 30-plus games over .500 — during a season where the National League’s two wild cards should be up for grabs.
The Cubs also have 30 games after the All-Star break against the Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, three teams that look like obvious sellers playing for the future.
“We stack up,” said veteran catcher David Ross, who’s been to the playoffs five times and won a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox. “I love our team.
“We come every day, and we expect to win. I think we got a good chance to do something special around here. I’ve seen us grow and get better in a lot of areas. It’s fun to see — as a veteran guy with such a young group — that we don’t give up.
“All you can do on a nightly basis is give yourself a chance to win, and I think we have done that more than not. I’m extremely excited about where this team is going.”
How long before Cubs players start wearing “I AM A BADASS” T-shirts?