For Theo Epstein and the Cubs, it's time to ask the right questions

For Theo Epstein and the Cubs, it's time to ask the right questions

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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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Jason Kipnis' concerns about the quality of baseball upon return

USA Today

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Jason Kipnis' concerns about the quality of baseball upon return

David Haugh, Charlie Roumeliotis and Adam Hoge join Kap on the panel.

0:45 - Nick Foles is officially a Chicago Bear. Over/under 10.5 starts for him next season.

3:36 - The Cubs' Jason Kipnis takes to Instagram to talk about the quality of baseball if it returns this season. Do fans care what the game looks like or do they just want to watch sports no matter what?

6:37 - ESPN's fan vote crowned Michael Jordan as the greatest college basketball player of all-time. He beat Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kap says MJ is the GOAT but he may not be college hoops' all-time top 5.

8:20 - The guys debate which dunk on Patrick Ewing was the best in Bulls history: Scottie's or Michael's. And they preview the next installment of Bulls Classics- Game 1 of the 1996 East Finals against Shaq and the Magic.

12:08- NBC Sports' national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh joins Kap. Could the NBA resume with teams playing neutral-site games? Tom also explains how the league's social significance will affect its decision when to return and he discusses his favorite era in history.

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Sports Talk Live Podcast


Fast or furious? Rush to play in 2020 not worth the risk for Cubs, MLB

Fast or furious? Rush to play in 2020 not worth the risk for Cubs, MLB

Dammit, we want answers. Now.

That might be one of the toughest and ugliest truths in our notoriously impatient country during the coronavirus pandemic, at least for many of us with the luxury of good health as we shelter in place.

Especially for those keeping an eye on any signal or clue from the sports world.

Even before this attention-devoid age of iPhones and binge-viewing on demand, nobody was built more for impatience than sports fans who always have demanded the gratification — if not always quite immediate — of the thrills and agonies of definitive outcomes.

Dammit, we want a final score. Now.

Or at least a schedule. 

The uncertainty and moving timelines are enough to make you throw the Kapman’s MyPillow at the TV.

It’s also what makes this moment so precarious, and the natural rush for answers and a return to live sports so potentially costly.

Even within the initial confusion and hand-wringing Tuesday over whether Toronto’s ban on public events through June specifically included professional sports events (it does not), the news that three players for Japan’s Hanshin Tigers tested positive for COVID-19 seemed almost a footnote.

But, of course, that should be the screaming headline on this whole thing. 

The pro leagues in Japan were pointing toward a delayed start to their season later this month and were back to training for it after “flattening the curve” on the coronavirus cases in that country.

Now it’s all in flux again, and nobody knows when they’ll start that season.

We’re far behind Japan in containing the spread of the virus in this country.

And we’re still talking about starting the baseball season in May or June? Or maybe July at the latest and try to play into October, and push the postseason well into November (maybe at warm-weather, neutral sites)? Into the teeth of the next flu season?

And 40,000 fans at the games? Come on. Playing without fans already is being discussed and is a near certainty for any restart that involves the 2020 calendar. 

By Wednesday nobody was surprised when the Cubs’ London series against the Cardinals in June was officially canceled by MLB. 

Should we be surprised if the entire season meets the same end?


Cubs second baseman Jason Kipnis, in an Instagram post Tuesday night, expressed respect for the depth and real-life seriousness of the crisis while also suggesting a far less serious concern about injury risk if baseball rushes players back to the field after a long layoff.

“Not to mention if we start back up and someone (asymptomatic or not) tests positive,” he wrote. “Shut it down again? I don’t know how we’re supposed to have that many tests provided! I really do hope things get better for everyone and there’s baseball this year, but these are just some of the worries creeping into my head that make me think otherwise.”

Ask the Hanshin Tigers and the rest of the Central League in Japan what they think about that right now.

And then consider the risk again.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is a cancer survivor who underwent chemotherapy to recover early in his professional career. Does he bear a greater risk than other players if he contracts the virus?

“I don’t think so. I’m at full strength,” Rizzo said. “All my blood work — it’s not like I’m low on any levels. All my lungs and liver and everything functions like it should be functioning, as it should be functioning as a 30-year-old athlete. So I’m not worried about it.”

Maybe he’s right

On the other hand, healthy people in the teens and 20s with no underlying high-risk conditions reportedly have died because of this virus.

And what about players who do have underlying higher risks, such as asthma, diabetes or blood-pressure issues?

Cubs reliever Brandon Morrow has Type 1 diabetes, as does former Cub Sam Fuld, a Phillies analyst and strategist based in the clubhouse.

Managers Joe Maddon (66) of the Angels and Dusty Baker (70) of the Astros are in the high-risk age range, as are many team support and medical staff who work in and around clubhouses in the majors.

“It’s scary,” Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said during an interview on WMVP 1000 radio the week after MLB shut down spring training camps. “You don’t prepare for stuff like this.”

Players handle flu bugs, nagging injuries, off-the-field pressures, and often play through those, Heyward said. 

“You can’t really fight this one,” he said. “The best thing to do and the best way to fight is be smart and distance yourself from people and be ready to resume when it is time to resume. It goes without saying we hope it happens sooner than later, but more than anything you just want to hope they get it right and careful.”

But we want answers. Now.


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