Cubs GM Jed Hoyer dissects what’s gone wrong and how the defending champs turn it around

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer dissects what’s gone wrong and how the defending champs turn it around

ST. LOUIS – The Cubs are without a simple explanation for their uneven start, not totally buying the World Series hangover theory, not having a devastating injury as an excuse and not noticing a new sense of entitlement in the clubhouse.

Being surprised that the Cubs are hovering around .500 might be the wrong way to look at it. This is a team that has allowed 41 runs in the first inning, put up a 4.56 rotation ERA, committed 27 errors through 34 games and watched underperforming hitters up and down the lineup. It could be so much worse.

“I don’t think it’s complacency at all,” Hoyer said Friday before the Cubs inched to 18-17 with a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. “There’s no diagnostic test for why we’re a .500 team right now. It’s not like you can say we’re missing this or we’re lacking that. Ultimately, we’re a .500 team – and we’ve actually scrambled for some wins to get to that point. 

“In some ways, we probably haven’t played as well as that record, but I don’t think it’s complacency. These guys are really competitive. Probably the thing that I look at the most is that we’ve had so many deficits. I feel like the whole year we’ve played from behind. 

“When you’re behind a lot, it does a lot of things that are negatives. It forces hitters to press. You feel like you have to get a hit here, because we’ve got to cut into the lead. It puts players on edge. You’re constantly playing that way. 

“Also, it shortens up some starts where you wish you could allow a guy to work his way in. But when you’re in the sixth inning and you’re down 3-1 or 5-2, you have to pinch-hit there. You don’t have a choice. So I just think that the nature of our early games has made this whole season feel like we’re scrambling out of the woods every night.” 

Another weird aspect is that the Cubs pretty much nailed their offseason moves, except for late-winter signing Brett Anderson, who’s on the disabled list with a lower back strain and an 8.18 ERA.

The Cubs carefully selected the players they wanted to add to this mix, focusing on accomplished veterans who already owned World Series rings. Wade Davis – who has two wins, eight saves and a 0.00 ERA – might be the best closer on the planet. Koji Uehara – who has held the opponent scoreless in 14 of his 16 outings – is an elite setup guy. Jon Jay (.299 average) is an ideal extra outfielder and mentor to Albert Almora Jr. 

But this isn’t about one big move or a quick fix almost 25 percent into the schedule. It’s all the little things that have added up to a fourth-place team so far. These Cubs aren’t playing defense at a historic level, the way the 2016 team made spectacular throws and catches look routine and propped up the pitching staff almost every night. So much for defense being slump-proof. 

“Last year, I thought the hallmark of what we did really well was we had clean, efficient games where we led from start to finish,” Hoyer said. “We went up 4-1, got into the bad part of the bullpen and then spread it out and not even use our good bullpen to win. Those games were on a regular basis. This year, this feels like the opposite. It feels like we’re constantly fighting from behind.

“We’ve shown a lot of fight. But it feels like a lot of that fight is having to come back in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. And that’s a terrible recipe for success.”

The good news for the Cubs is that the Cardinals (19-15) aren’t running away from them and no team has separated itself yet in the National League Central. This isn’t the beginning of the Wrigleyville rebuild, trying to project prospects from the Baseball America rankings and waiting for the right free agent at the right time. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision the Cubs taking off again.  

“I just don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet,” Hoyer said. “I can’t imagine this group – given what they went through last year, given how much they care about each other – (would) take anything for granted. 

“The comforting thing is we just saw largely the same group win the World Series. We know it’s there. We know that a lot of these guys are underperforming where they will be at the end of the year. 

“We’re due for an offensive outbreak. We know we can play better defense. We know we can pitch better. So we know it’s all there. Now we have to put it together.”

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred: 'We weren’t going to play more than 60 games'

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred made an interesting revelation Wednesday about negotiations between MLB and the players union. In an interview with Dan Patrick, Manfred said the 2020 season was never going to be more than 60 games given the spread of the coronavirus — at least by the time they got to serious negotiations two weeks ago.

“The reality is we weren’t going to play more than 60 games, no matter how the negotiation with the players went, or any other factor," Manfred said on The Dan Patrick Show. "Sixty games is outside the envelope given the realities of the virus. I think this is the one thing that we come back to every single day: We’re trying to manage something that has proven to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

"I know it hasn’t looked particularly pretty in spots, but having said that, if we can pull off this 60-game season, I think it was the best we were gonna do for our fans given the course of the virus."

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Manfred unilaterally imposed a 60-game season after the two sides couldn't come to terms. The union rejected the owners' final proposal, retaining the right to file a grievance against the owners for not negotiating in good faith.

Whether Manfred's comments become a point of contention in any grievance the players might file is unclear. The league would likely argue Manfred was referring to negotiations after his face-to-face meeting with MLBPA executive director Tony Clark on June 16. Manfred's comments to Patrick's follow up question — if the league would have been willing to go to 80 games, had the players agreed to all their terms — also points to this.

"It’s the calendar, Dan. We’re playing 60 games in 63 days. I don’t see — given the reality of the health situation over the past few weeks — how we were gonna get going any faster than the calendar we’re on right now, no matter what the state of those negotiations were.

"Look, we did get a sub-optimal result from the negotiation in some ways. The fans aren’t gonna get an expanded postseason, which I think would have been good with the shortened season. The players left real money on the table. But that’s what happens when you have a negotiation that instead of being collaborative, gets into sort of a conflict situation.”

The players' final proposal called for a 70-game season. At this point in the calendar, 60 games in 69 days (Sept. 27 is the reported end date for the regular season) leaves room for a couple more games, not 70 (or more).

So, Manfred's right that 60 games on the current timetable was probably the most MLB can fit in amid the pandemic. But you have to wonder if the union will use those comments in a potential grievance. 


Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

Cubs fan base named second most loyal in MLB, only trailing Red Sox

When you wait more than 100 years for a championship, you must maintain a strong sense of loyalty to your favorite team. 

Cubs fans have done that, supporting the club through thick and thin, from the mediocre years to the curse-breaking 2016 World Series season. They pack the Wrigley Field stands, consistently ranking in the top 10 in attendance season after season.

That devotion led to Forbes naming Cubs fans the second most loyal fan base in Major League Baseball, second to only the Red Sox.

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Per Forbes, the rankings are based on "local television ratings (per Nielsen), stadium attendance based on capacity reached, secondary ticket demand (per StubHub), merchandise sales (per Fanatics), social media reach (Facebook and Twitter followers based on the team’s metro area population) and hometown crowd reach (defined by Nielsen as a percentage of the metropolitan area population that watched, attended and/or listened to a game in the last year)."

All that science aside, does the 108-year wait for a championship warrant the Cubs being first on this list? In fairness, the Red Sox waited 86 years before winning the 2004 World Series, their first since 1918. Plus, in terms of attendance, the Cubs have only out-drawn the Red Sox in six of the past 10 seasons, a near-equal split.

Two historic clubs. Two historic ballparks. Two historic championships. In a loyalty ranking, you can't go wrong with either franchise. Here's how the list's top 10 panned out:

10. Braves
9. Phillies
8. Indians
7. Giants
6. Brewers
5. Dodgers
4. Yankees
3. Cardinals
2. Cubs
1. Red Sox