Cubs

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Cubs

PITTSBURGH — If there's any positive to this last week for the Cubs, it might be that everything is out in the open.

All the weaknesses, all the flaws — there's no way to sugarcoat it or turn a blind eye to it anymore.

The Cubs are what their record and their position in the standings say they are — a third-place team that is will be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention before the final weekend of the regular season.

That may not make this seven-game losing streak or the brutally frustrating series against the Cardinals any easier to stomach for Cubs fans, but it's the reality of the situation.

The next move is for Theo Epstein and Co. to try to learn and grow from it, as he said Wednesday evening in the visiting dugout at PNC Park.

"When you have the best-possible outcome and you overcome a lot of things and do some transcendent things, I think you grow from that, because you do something you haven't done before and accomplish things," Epstein said. "The middle-of-the-road outcome, you can always tell yourself whatever story you want to hear. It's a gray area. Last year, we had some issues, but we won 95 games, so you try to get to the bottom of some issues, but there's always a, 'Yeah, but we won 95 games.'

"But, when you have the worst-possible outcome like we've had recently, it reveals everything. And I think, as painful as that can be, that also creates a real opportunity for everyone to learn from it and grow. I just flew in today and I'll be with the team the rest of the trip. Just walking through the clubhouse, even for five minutes, three players come up to me and we started talking about things and they kept asking, 'What can I do different? How can we make sure this doesn't happen again?' 

 

"Those are the right questions for all of us, me included, the whole organization. I think it's important, if you're going to suffer through something like this, to be really determined, really dedicated to making sure that you grow from it, learn from it, and something good happens."

This will be the first time since 2014 in which the Cubs don't go to the postseason. Playing in October is the only big-league life guys like Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras have ever known.

It ultimately doesn't matter that the Cubs lost six straight games at home by only 7 total runs. They were still losses.

It doesn't matter if the Cubs finish the season with a run differential north of +100 because they won't be going to the playoffs.

"When you go through things like this, the extreme nature of what's happened can make things clear or make things unavoidable," Epstein said. "You can't spin a narrative for yourself and avoid facing some realities. So, I think there are important things that we need to examine and fix in every aspect of our operation. I think that's the mindset we're all going to take."

So how do the Cubs go about fixing the issues at hand? 

Epstein wasn't ready to go into that just yet, but promised a more thorough evaluation of the 2019 Cubs after the season officially ends Sunday afternoon. 

Still, he and the front office might not have all the answers right away. If they did, they would've fixed things after 2018, when they finished "one game short" and vowed to come out in 2019 with a greater sense of urgency from Day 1.

"When you're heavily invested in something and — in my case — responsible for something, when it goes well and you win and a lot of people get something out of that and are happy about that, it's really uplifting and rewarding," Epstein said. "And when you're invested in something and — in my case — responsible for something, and you don't win, there is extra weight. There is burden, because you feel like you've let everybody down. So, it becomes really painful."

One such change figures to be with on-field leadership, as Joe Maddon's contract is up after this season and it's widely speculated the Cubs will move on from him and bring a new manager into the fold. 

It's certainly not fair to put it all on Maddon's shoulders. Every aspect of the organization deserves blame for how this campaign has played out. But maybe it's the right time for both sides to part ways and that would definitely qualify as change for the organization, though there's absolutely no guarantee it would help things.

 

At the end of the day, this roster needs work to fill some of the holes that hampered the team this season — from leadoff hitter to lack of second base production to bullpen pieces that can hold late leads consistently.

Even if the Cubs made the postseason this fall, the roster was always going to dominate Epstein's focus this winter, with a large group of names set to become free agents (Ben Zobrist, Nicholas Castellanos, Cole Hamels, etc.) and the team holding options on several more players (Jose Quintana, David Phelps, etc.).

The positive news is the Cubs have a lot of core pieces still under team control and they will definitely head into 2020 with high expectations once again.

"Absolutely, the goal is to win a championship next year," Epstein said. "One-hundred percent. That's what this organization's about and I think the thing that gets you excited — even in the face of this adversity — is waking up and trying to build the next championship Cubs team. 

"We want that to be as soon as possible. We have to build the next championship Cubs team."

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