ST. LOUIS — It was 10 years ago, almost to the day, that the Cubs manager sat in the visitors dugout in Milwaukee, his team 18 games under .500, buried in fifth place, 11 1/2 games out of first, and declared, “I’m not a lunatic.”
It was a necessary qualifier by the time said manager, Mike Quade, finished explaining how a team dead in the standings in late July and in full-blown seller’s mode ahead of the trade deadline still might make up all that ground and catch four other teams to win the National League Central.
The Cubs lost their next five.
Welcome to David Ross’ world.
The Cubs’ current manager is no more a lunatic than his decade-ago predecessor.
In fact, all of Ross’ optimism and bald-faced hope combined in the head-wind of the Cubs’ cold, competitive reality would be no match for Quade’s historic “lunatic” moment.
But as the Cubs opened a rare nothing-on-the-line series in St. Louis barely a week ahead of the trade deadline — with myriad Cubs talent from closer Craig Kimbrel to former MVP Kris Bryant being shopped — Ross engaged in his own echo-of-Quade moment.
Albeit, with a laugh when asked about still holding out hope the Cubs can play their way back into the playoff picture.
“Crazier things have happened, I’m sure,” Ross said.
Maybe. But not around here.
“I don’t know historically what all the numbers might say and the percentages,” Ross said. “I have a hard time buying into that win-probability and stuff like that during a game. I’ve just seen that change too much too fast.”
He went on. And he even made a point or two along the way.
For instance, there was a time this season — unlike that season 10 years ago — when the Cubs were in first place and looking like a playoff team.
But the cost-cutting winter, terrible April and worse monthlong stretch to this point have baked this team into the depths of a division that will only look more formidable when team president Jed Hoyer is done trading what he can by July 30 in a a deadline-retooling effort that began with last week’s trade of Joc Pederson.
A few hours after Ross was done with the “crazier things have happened” TED Talk, the Cubs committed four errors — including three in their ugliest inning of the season — in an 8-3 loss to the Cardinals.
It came a day after his pitching staff walked 11 in a loss to the MLB-worst Arizona Diamondbacks.
And it came against a backdrop of heating rumors surrounding the like of Bryant and former MVP runner-up Javy Báez — who committed his 16th and 17th errors of the season Monday.
By sometime next month, rookie left-hander Justin Steele is expected to join the Cubs’ rotation for what will amount to an audition for next year. Rookie right-hander Keegan Thompson, who pitched in relief Monday (and gave up back-to-back homers in the sixth) could join him. And the Cubs and former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta will have to figure out how he’ll fit into their rotation plans the rest of the way (or not).
Key pieces of the bullpen and a veteran starter or two are all but certain to be gone by then — along with at least one core player from the 2016 championship (maybe more).
And the clock will be ticking on the rebuild that Hoyer refuses to call a rebuild.
Ross continued to defend the work and effort of players even in the ugly loss Monday. “I haven’t seen a game like that it feels like in a while,” he said. “I feel like that was uncharacteristic of this group as of late.”
But it’s going to look worse before it gets better as the most painful part begins of whatever this transition becomes. And whatever length of time it takes.
Quade didn’t make it past the 2011 transition into the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer era.
Ross at least has a chance to see this one through, especially working for boss who called him a “star” and said “he’s done a fantastic job.”
Not that it’ll be an easy road for a manager who has only known pandemic baseball and long-shot attempts to squeeze another run at glory from the end of the championship tube in less than two years as a big-league manager.
Hey, crazier things have happened.