WASHINGTON – If the Cubs hadn’t just won the World Series less than eight months ago – and Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon didn’t already have Hall of Fame resumes – this indictment would sound a lot like the team president putting the manager on the hot seat.
“I don’t think we’ve found our edge yet that we’ll need to play with to win games,” Epstein said after dumping veteran catcher Miguel Montero. “Wins don’t just happen because you’re talented and you show up.
“You have to come to the park with an edge every day and come together as a team every day and play to win. You have to play with a certain edge that we’re striving for as a group.”
It would look a lot like this 5-4 comeback win on Thursday at Nationals Park: Jon Lester delivering as the $155 million ace, a B lineup scraping together a two-out, three-run, ninth-inning rally against an awful Washington bullpen and Wade Davis slamming the door on a first-place team.
There are only so many buttons left to push and Epstein clearly wanted to rattle the clubhouse, because Jake Arrieta isn’t the sensitive type and didn’t really care about or disagree with Montero’s scathing comments about his inability to control the running game.
But for all the drama so far, the Cubs are 4-4 on a road trip that began with the Kyle Schwarber-to-Iowa news and now a game over .500 as the season nears the halfway point this weekend in Cincinnati.
“We’ve never been able to get on a roll, and with that comes that edgy kind of a feeling,” Maddon said. “We’ve underachieved offensively. And our starting pitching has not been as good as we thought. So we’ve been playing from behind a lot. It’s hard to create edginess under those circumstances.
“We’re missing some folks from last year, and we’ve been injured a little bit. So, again, I understand the comment. And to a certain extent I totally agree with it. But it’s not for a lack of effort or lack of caring.”
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With reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant resting a sprained right ankle, Jeimer Candelario launched his first big-league homer in the seventh inning off Joe Ross and started the ninth-inning comeback when Blake Treinen’s 99-mph fastball smashed into his left knee (the X-rays were negative).
“We got some underclassmen playing right now,” Maddon said. “We’re breaking in that group, so it’s different. It’s hard to accuse these guys of not quite getting it, because they’re still trying to figure some stuff out.
“There’s a difference from last year to this year, I think. And, again, in spite of all the maladies to this point, thank God we’re in this division right now."
The Cubs are running out of shock-value moves – and not playing like a team that will force the front office to pick up rental players or win an insane bidding war for a top-of-the-rotation starter.
Whatever that “edge” is, the Cubs will either find it and have Wrigleyville rocking in October or slowly turn this into a developmental season.
“We’re right there,” said Lester, who gave up one run in six innings and got the no-decision. “The record and the way we’ve been playing is not ideal. We all can admit to that here in this clubhouse.
“But at the end of the day, we’re one (Milwaukee) loss away from being in first place. That’s what you’re playing for during the season – to make the playoffs – no matter how you get in.”