It’s probably too simple to say the Cubs played distracted on Thursday night at Wrigley Field. It’s also not really an exaggeration to suggest the defending World Series champs could be in crisis mode.
The Cubs held a brief team meeting before a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies, getting an update on Addison Russell’s situation and a reminder on how to handle questions about domestic-violence allegations they don’t have answers for now.
This is unchartered territory, a third-party accusation on Instagram that has since been deleted, a relatively new Major League Baseball policy that gives commissioner Rob Manfred a lot of latitude and little precedent and the Cubs not knowing when their All-Star shortstop will return.
“We have great clubhouse chemistry, but real life happens all the time,” team president Theo Epstein said. “Sometimes, it reaches the light of day, and sometimes it doesn’t. But there are serious situations that come up throughout the course of a season and right now we’re dealing with a very serious allegation.
“We’ll see where it develops. But, yeah, it’s not always just baseball in there. Everybody has a personal life. The real world happens every day to guys and they know how to deal with it and still play the game.”
Three-plus hours after the Cubs announced Kyle Hendricks would be going on the disabled list with a hand injury, the first-place Rockies jumped their other Cy Young Award finalist from last year. Jon Lester watched ex-Cub DJ LeMahieu – a rare miss from the early days of the Epstein administration – launch a two-out, three-run homer into the right-field basket that gave Colorado a 4-1 lead in the second inning. This kind of night: Lester was informed that LeMahieu had hit only one other home run off a left-handed fastball within the last four years.
“Baseball is a game of adjustments,” Lester said. “It’s a game that can be cruel to you at times and be really good to you at times. With Kyle doing down, all the stuff going on with Addie, you know what, that’s why we’ve got 25 guys and we’ll figure it out. You can’t worry about stuff you can’t control.
“The next guy will step in and hopefully fill that void. That’s all you can really do in this game. You can’t dwell on the negatives and you look forward to tomorrow.”
Even if the Cubs sound optimistic about Hendricks, there are now questions up and down the rotation, from how Mike Montgomery transitions out of the bullpen to where Jake Arrieta goes from here to how much John Lackey (5.12 ERA) has left at the age of 38 to if Eddie Butler can stick in the big leagues after failing with the Rockies.
Sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals last weekend now feels like ancient history for a 30-29 team near the beginning of a 30-games-in-31-days stretch between June 2 and July 2 that hasn’t even gotten into the 17 road games in five different cities yet.
“It’s all about depth,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You don’t win without depth. That happens on an annual basis. We’ve been pretty good regarding picking other guys up over the last couple years.
“These are the kind of things you have to expect during the course of the year.”
It would be foolish to write off the Cubs when they are only one game out of first place in a weak division. Javier Baez might wind up being a better shortstop than Russell and Epstein could trade for a big-time starter before the July 31 deadline.
But it’s also probably time to slow down the Cubs Way narrative about the organization’s emphasis on character and makeup after rationalizing Aroldis Chapman’s 30-game suspension under MLB’s domestic-violence policy and making that blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees last summer.
“I think they’re distinct at this time,” Epstein said. “With Aroldis Chapman, it was a player who had served his discipline and had undergone the disciplinary action through the program.
“He was somebody who we then spent a lot of time doing our own research on whether we thought he had grown from the incident and moved on and could be a productive member of our clubhouse and a good citizen while with the Cubs.
“This is an allegation by a third party on social media. They are distinct situations, but they both fall under the same general umbrella. And because the nature of the allegation is very serious, we are taking it very seriously.”
All the players can do is shrug their shoulders, get through the initial media wave and go back to work.
“We’re human beings,” said Anthony Rizzo, the face-of-the-franchise first baseman. “We’re put on this high level, but things happen off the field that usually don’t get this far to the media. Things are going on all the time, on and off the field. You learn to deal with it.
“I love Addison. We’ve had some really good memories together, but I don’t know. I love him here. I don’t know what’s going on outside of this.”