Cubs

Theo Epstein speaks for all Cubs fans as he sums up the frustrating season to date

Theo Epstein speaks for all Cubs fans as he sums up the frustrating season to date

If you were listening to 670 The Score Thursday morning, nobody would blame you if you confused Theo Epstein for a random Cubs fan.

But that wasn't Bob from Berwyn chatting with David Haugh and Mike Mulligan about the infuriating 2019 season the Cubs have played to date — it was the president of baseball operations for the club, who told it like it is and pulled no punches.

Like usual, Epstein was measured in his response, but his frustration was palpable, as he explained how there are simply no excuses for the way the Cubs have played this year and especially lately. 

He did not point to the recent string of injuries as a reason or use any other potential excuse in the books to explain away the fact that this team woke up Thursday morning tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for the second Wild-Card spot. 

When asked which area of the Cubs' game has been inconsistent, Epstein offered his take:

"I just think our failure to play up to our ability, play up to our potential," Epstein said. "We just lost two games in a row to a team that I think we're more talented than (we have a 150-run differential better than), we were just caught from behind by a team that our run differential is over 100 runs better than. But they're playing better ball — the Brewers. And they just beat us five out of seven in huge games and we put them back in the race. 

"It's just the inability to show up and play winning baseball, for the whole to be as good as the sum of the parts. It's not right now. I think our guys said it [Wednesday] night — we're not playing good baseball. We're playing bad baseball. We [have the] second-most errors in the league, most outs on the bases in the league — those things chip away at your margin for error. When you do those things, you can't just roll out and have your talent win games and that's the reality of where we are at this point. Those are some of the attributes that have marked our play this year. 

"The only good news is we are very fortunate that we have a chance with a few weeks left to change that script. If we finally start playing good baseball on a consistent basis and show up every night and win a bunch of games, we can change the script of what the 2019 Cubs will be known for. That's an opportunity that should not be taken lightly because at this point in the season, I don't think any of us associated with this team are going to be proud of what our identity is here for the 2019 Cubs, what we're going for — those things we just talked about. 

"We're the only ones who can get ourselves out of this. All we have to do is play really good baseball for a couple weeks, so we should relish that opportunity to change the script here."

After the Cubs closed the gap in the division to only a 4-game deficit with a win Monday night in Nico Hoerner's debut against the Padres, the Cardinals lost back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday night. Yet the Cubs couldn't draw any closer, losing a pair of games to a Padres team that has been well out of the playoff race for weeks. 

Meanwhile, the Brewers lost Christian Yelich for the season, yet they won both games Tuesday and Wednesday night, moving into a tie with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the NL. This is the same Brewers team that looked to be falling out of it as the calendar moved into September, but — as Epstein said — the Cubs let them back into it with subpar showings on back-to-back weekends.

This season, the Cubs have essentially had just one good stretch, where they went 22-6 from mid-April to mid-May. But since then, they've gone 52-54 and that includes the addition of Nicholas Castellanos and Craig Kimbrel:

Epstein's 19-minute interview was jam-packed with interesting tidbits from the leader of the Cubs baseball department, but the overall point was apparent — he is frustrated by the way this team has underachieved for over a calendar year now. 

Even in talking about Jason McLeod and his lateral move from overseeing player development and amateur scouting to senior vice president of player personnel, Epstein drove the same point home:

"Really, this is about the organization and getting some fresh perspective and some change," Epstein said. "Clearly, for over a year now, we haven't been getting the most out of our talent. We haven't been getting the most out of our big-league roster. So there's gotta be some small things that we can tweak, adjust, do a little bit differently short-term, medium-term, long-term to try to get more out of that. 

"Jason's a great baseball guy; he's a fresh set of eyes. If he's around the team more, it gives a new perspective that maybe he'll say something that helps a player or helps the front office or helps Joe [Maddon] or a coach just with a new set of eyes.

"We're taking a fresh look at every aspect of the organization."

That sounds like a man looking to make some major shake-ups with the Cubs this winter if they can't turn things around over the next two-and-a-half weeks.

Steven Souza's healthy and ready to prove himself to Cubs fans and baseball in general

Steven Souza's healthy and ready to prove himself to Cubs fans and baseball in general

MESA, Ariz. –  Two years ago, things were looking bright for Steven Souza. At 28, he was coming off the best season of his career, one where he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, good for a 121 wRC+. The Rays are certainly never prohibitive favorites in the AL East, but the team was talented and the idea of catching up with the division’s juggernauts was no longer unrealistic. 

Then came the shoulder injury, which delayed the start of his 2018 season until mid-May. After that there was a pec injury, and before he knew it, the year was over and the right fielder had only played in 72 games. Think that’s bad? The following season, now playing for Arizona, Souza slipped while crossing home plate during one of the last games of Spring Training. He tore his ACL, and his season ended before it began. 

“It’s been a grind,” said Souza, who signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in late January. “Coming off the year I had in ‘17, I was excited for the future held for me, and I just kind of ran into a couple injuries that really derailed my last couple seasons. It’s been frustrating, but all that’s behind me, and even though it’s been a grind, I’m excited to get back out here and look forward to the future.” 

Freak injuries derailed what looked to be a promising prime of Souza’s career, and you wouldn’t blame him for harboring his fair share of resentment. It’s impressive, then, to hear him talk about what lasting effect the run of injuries has had on his psyche. 

“Personally, I don’t believe in accidents,” he said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what that reason was, but I know that I’m stronger for it. Mentally, I think if there’s a silver lining, it’s that I got to spend a full year with my son and my newborn daughter. As we all know, in this game, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with our families. So it was a huge blessing and I’m looking forward to moving on from that.” 

Unlike the years he spent playing alongside All-Star center fielders like Kevin Kiermaier and A.J. Pollock, Souza’s outfield positioning will be less set in stone with the Cubs. He’ll get ABs from the corners, but with Schwarber and Heyward not losing their starting positions anytime soon, the quickest road to more at-bats may come in center field. 

"Like I said, wherever I need to fit on the field,” he said. “Whether it’s first base, catcher, shortstop – I mean I’m not very good at those, and there are some really, really good players that are way better than me at those – but I’m just looking to help this team any way I can.” 

Not unlike new teammate Jason Kipnis, the draw of Wrigley was also too much to turn down. He has some moderate success there, too. Over 23 career plate appearances in the Friendly Confines, Souza’s hit .333/.391/.429 with an .820 OPS. It’s a small sample size, but it’s one that has him optimistic that he can prove himself the the North Side’s faithful. 

“I’ll tell you what, that was one of the things that brought me here, the fans and the environment. I’m super pumped,” he said. “And no offense, but I’ve played in Tampa and Arizona and those aren’t the greatest markets in the league. I’ve always enjoyed going to Wrigley, and I’ve had some good success at Wrigley, and I know the Cubs fans bring it every day and I’m looking forward to that.” 

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Can Cubs keep Báez and Bryant? Tom Ricketts says that's 'on Theo and Jed'

Can Cubs keep Báez and Bryant? Tom Ricketts says that's 'on Theo and Jed'

It's a pretty simple question with a pretty simple answer. Can the Cubs, one of baseball's wealthiest organizations, afford to keep both Kris Bryand and Javy Baez? Is there room in the infamous budget to make both of the team's homegrown stars Cubs for life?

“There’s certainly money out there. It’s a very, very profitable game," Bryant said, in regards to keep the core together. "It’s just a matter of if they want to. I don’t know, I really don’t. But it would certainly be cool.”

“It’s up to them,” Báez added. “I hope we both stay here. Obviously, we want to keep everyone here because we pretty much have the team that we want." 

Then, on Monday, "they" – being Cubs' owner Tom Ricketts – finally talked. So, Tom? You sign their checks, what do you think?

"Well, where we place our resources is a baseball decision," Ricketts said. "That’s Jed and Theo. But I mean, ultimately, we have to look at it from a bigger perspective."

It's been a week since Theo Epstein, David Ross and Jed Hoyer (he was there too!) addressed the media for the first time this spring, and no one seems to be able to get a straight answer on the team's most-pressing long-term concern. It's almost certainly by design, as the Cubs are adamant that speaking on finances publicly creates some sort of competitive disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with players and agents. KB and Báez say it's up to ownership, ownership says it's up to the front office (?) and the front office isn't going to speculate. Terrific! If you're to believe the rumor mill, the team seems marginally closer to an extension with Báez than they are with Bryant, and are maybe – according to some – more focused on moving the latter.

Epstein said Bryant was given no assurances about what the time between now and Opening Day holds, and regardless of Bryant's wishes to be in the loop, Ricketts also doesn't feel that an explicit guarantee is totally necessary. 

"I imagine there’s communication between Theo and Kris at some point," Ricketts said. "I think they met yesterday. But a lot of the stuff, what – do you communicate to say that the stuff you saw is a rumor? I mean, I don’t know. Like I said, we love KB. I think he’s ready to go and a full season of a healthy Kris Bryant is something we could really use." 

Put aside for a moment the fact that, yeah, that's exactly what you'd communicate. Compare the apparent transparency of an owner who said that the CBT "won’t define the situation" and "won’t determine the actual player moves" vs. what he said when pressed about all of the offseason turbulence surrounding Bryant and the Cubs. 

"Well obviously we love KB, he’s a great player and he’s a great teammate," he said. "He’s just a great part of the team. Most of the things that are out there are just rumors and noise. A lot of it is just not true. But with respect to all player decisions, if anything was going down that path, it’d obviously be a baseball decision."

Most of the things out there are just rumors and noise. A lot of it is not true. Can the Cubs' afford to keep Bryant and Báez? Yes. Will the Cubs' make that choice? 

"Once again, that’s in Theo’s camp. That’s his decision," Ricketts said. "We’d have to take a look at what that means for us all financially." 

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