“Oh my God,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, dropping into his seat in the Wrigley Field interview room after Thursday’s 11-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers. “Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to talk about. That game goes in the trash can as quickly as any game you’ve ever played.”
What about this entire season? Too soon? Probably, but team president Theo Epstein sent the message loud and clear before the first-place Brewers absolutely blitzed the defending World Series champs, opening up a 4.5-game lead in the National League Central and showing the system-wide issues with a 42-43 team.
Even in welcoming back favorite son Kyle Schwarber from Triple-A Iowa, Epstein sounded a little cranky. Maybe it was a combination of the sweltering heat inside a home dugout packed with reporters, the TV guy who kept poking him with a microphone and versions of the same questions about the inconsistent Cubs.
“Look, if we can improve the club through trade, we will,” Epstein said. “But our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse. This is a team that’s largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins a year over the last two years.
“There’s not a player that we realistically can bring in from the outside that’s going to spur us to play at that level.
“We’re going to get to a point of playing at that level because of the guys who are here. And of course, we’re going to work hard and do what we can for the club. It might happen. It may not happen. But the biggest fixes rest in the talented players that we have.”
Translation: Figure it out, Joe. The players can’t count on the trade-deadline “boost” Jon Lester just talked about on the Fourth of July. Don’t waste your time making fantasy-baseball trades on Twitter.
If anything, Epstein’s front office might look to buy low on raw talent and plan for the future, the way they did last year with Mike Montgomery, who walked off the mound on Thursday afternoon with runners on the corners and one out in the third inning and the Cubs already down 5-0.
You heard more boos when lefty reliever Jack Leathersich walked three straight batters – including pitcher Zach Davies – to force in the sixth and seventh runs. You heard sarcastic cheers from the crowd of 41,576 when Leathersich struck out Jesus Aguilar to end the inning, the Cubs now trailing 9-0.
The week after dumping Miguel Montero for his critical comments/over-the-top honesty – and summoning Victor Caratini from Iowa – Epstein was noncommittal about adding an experienced catcher.
“Maybe, if the right veteran guy is out there, sure,” Epstein said. “We also really like the way Caratini handled his first start and we look forward to him getting the opportunity to play a little bit more, too.
“But if the right guy is out there, and the right trade is out there, sure. If not, I’m pretty confident in what Victor brings to the table. He carries himself more like a veteran than a typical rookie catcher with how calm he is behind the plate.”
The Cubs had long admired Jonathan Lucroy, but never felt like Milwaukee would deal him to a division rival, and it’s not clear how much they’re interested now that the Texas Rangers have put him on the trading block. Detroit Tigers catcher Alex Avila sounds like the more realistic target in any Justin Verlander speculation.
“You can’t put too much stock in rumors,” Epstein said. “Every player out there on a team that isn’t in first place will come up in a rumor. Sometimes there’s something to it. Sometimes there’s not. You guys can do your own analysis.”
This is the takeaway that would have sounded unthinkable in spring training: A season that began with talk about the Cubs becoming a dynasty could become more and more about player development and gearing up for 2018, even while staying in the NL Central race.
“That’s probably where the greatest improvements will come,” Epstein said, “the talent that rests inside our clubhouse, inside of the players who are wearing Cubs uniforms right now.
“We’ll do what we can to augment that. There’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel that we have. We like our club. We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.”