With one big swing of Javy Báez’s bat on Friday, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Báez all went home.
If that wasn’t the signature moment for those three All-Star championship Cubs players during this franchise-altering week, maybe it came in Sunday’s first inning, when Bryant and Rizzo paired up for back-to-back homers for the first time since May 2019.
It was the seventh time in their decorated Cubs careers they’ve teamed up for consecutive shots.
And probably the last.
“I know me and Javy have done it a few times. And Kris and Javy have done it a few times,” said Rizzo, who admitted he thought about that after the Bryzzo moment in Sunday’s 5-1 win over the Diamondbacks — while quickly saying he’ll save indulging in the “sentimental stuff” for another time.
For now, the end is near for this core and the most successful six-year run in Cubs history, its long-rumored demise finally upon them months after ownership and the front office made it imminent with a winter of payroll slashing and a spring of failed extension talks.
A second-year manager squeezed as much as there was to squeeze from a budget-depleted pitching staff and an injury-hampered lineup to reach June 25 in first place.
But a roster that was built in the offseason for a trade-deadline selloff in July eventually gave out under the weight of an organizational upheaval that began nine months ago with team president Theo Epstein’s resignation.
Now with five days left before Friday’s 3 pm. deadline, the impact of that upheaval has become as clear as these final days have become clouded by the misty eyes of nostalgia.
“I would say there’s been some impact,” manager David Ross said. “I think when you create some narratives like that, it just adds a little bit of distraction. You try not to, for sure. You try to control what you can control.
“There’s other organizations that [also] are not in the positions they want, but those aren’t the narratives, right? I think it’s just the group that’s been together for so long. And we’ve got a number of free agents. So I think that’s natural.”
Bryant, Báez and Rizzo all are free agents after this season. One or two might get final-hour extension offers for long-shot deals.
But the closer this core got to this final week before the deadline, the tougher it seemed to win games, and the harder players seemed to push for the results.
“I don’t know, but I would assume,” Ross said. “When things did go a little bit sideways, it went sideways hard.”
Báez has more errors this season than he’s had in a season in his career — including three in two games last week in St. Louis. Rizzo has been mired in one of the worst slumps of his career the last six weeks until getting a few hits against the moribund Diamondbacks. And even during his fourth All-Star season, Bryant was hitting just .168 with three homers over his previous 35 games until Saturday.
Whether that was more indicative of a few physical issues Bryant’s been playing through or the constant spotlight as the Core Guy Most Likely To Be Traded, he looked until this homestand as happy in the batter’s box as he looked on TV when Joe Buck asked him about getting traded during that mic’d-up moment during the All-Star game.
All that success during six straight winning seasons that included five playoff appearances. Nine combined All-Star selections. Nineteen postseason victories.
All culminating in one unceremonious season of transition and cost-cutting.
Spiraling since late June. Down to the final five days.
“I think we would be naive to say it hasn’t affected it [on the field],” Ross said. “Looking up on the board, at the numbers of these guys, it’s very uncharacteristic of who they’ve been. So that has to be a factor.”
They have kept a company-line message of staying in the moment and playing for each other every day.
But the narrative and the speculation and the view of that final horizon are no longer as theoretical and in-the-future as they are part of that moment they’re trying to stay in.
“It’s going to be what it is,” Rizzo said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s been almost four years now since all this talk has been out there. I don’t think really much has changed in that four years.
“But this could be it, yeah. And whenever that happens, we’ll face that when it happens.”
That’s where the “sentimental stuff” started creeping into the questions, if not Rizzo’s thoughts.
“At the appropriate time I will definitely address all of that,” he said. “But I think with these next five days there’s going to be a lot more rumors. I’m sure the whole trade market in general’s going to be heating up.
“And we’ll see what happens.”