Now that the formerly-struggling Chicago Cubs are completely back on track and ready to win every game from now until the end of the season (what, that wasn’t your takeaway from yesterday’s win over the Reds?), it’s a good time to take a step back and see what the big man, Theo Epstein, has to say about his club.
Speaking to the media before yesterday’s 9-5 victory over Cincinnati, Epstein covered a variety of big-picture topics that have surrounded the team. I’ll grab some of the highlights and add my own commentary below, but you can read his comments in full at MLB.com, CSN Chicago, ESPN Chicago, and, oh, hey, CSN Chicago again.
- The overarching theme to all of Epstein’s comments was actually quite simple and effective: If you’re selling low on the Cubs, we’re buying. It’s funny how such a simple idea helped (me) put their season in perspective. I was far from worried, and the Cubs did bank a lot of losses they cannot get back. But, as Epstein points out, selling low on the Cubs now would be a mistake. Ditto Kyle Schwarber.
- Before yesterday’s game, Brett discussed the unfortunate, but promising under-the-hood results of Schwarber’s recent 0-16 skid. And, like Brett, Epstein suggested that good things were on their way: “He hasn’t gotten on track yet but we have no doubts that he will.” Schwarber, of course, validated both with two hits – including his sixth homer of the year – in the opening game against the Reds.
- But Schwarber’s not the only one that has Epstein’s confidence. On Jake Arrieta, Epstein suggested that the righty just hasn’t locked in his delivery quite yet, but, when he does, “things will be different.” And beyond that, Epstein is expecting “five or six” guys to get hot at the same time. “It’s not going to last, at all.” Agreed.
- Later, Epstein reiterated that there is absolutely no reason for panic. Frustration? Sure, there’s plenty of that. But panic, urgency, and complacency? Nah, not yet. “I’m not blind to what’s gone on but you also have to trust in what you believe … Like Schwarber, if people want to sell low on the Cubs we’ll buy,” he said. “The season is 162 games for a reason. It tends to be a meritocracy over 162.”
- Switching gears, Epstein also addressed the upcoming trade deadline, but cautioned that it’s still too early to start looking at the menu: “That stuff doesn’t play itself out (yet),” Epstein said before yesterday’s game. “One six-game winning or losing streak right now takes a team from one category to another.” He went onto explain that while, yes, the Cubs need to prepare and allocate their resources accordingly, there’s no point in speculating on who (and when) certain players might become available.
- And in the meantime, Epstein has been encouraged by the direction of the starting rotation, and specifically, the way Kyle Hendricks has looked his last few times out. I summed up Hendricks’ recent stretch in yesterday’s Series Preview, if you missed it:
“After allowing eleven earned runs through his first three starts (16.0 IP) of the season, Kyle Hendricks has settled into a bit of a rhythm. Over his last four starts (23.2 IP), Hendricks has allowed just four earned runs, while walking nine and striking out 21 batters. His strand rate during that stretch is a bit high, but he’s getting ground balls nearly 50% of the time and still has a 3.06 FIP.”
- In addition to the boost Hendricks is providing, Epstein was very encouraged by Butler’s first start (which was actually one of the Cubs best starting pitcher performances of the year). If he can stick in the rotation, the net-gain over to-date Brett Anderson (who was pitching about as poorly as any one could while remaining in the Majors) is enormous.
- Even still, the Cubs will probably turn to the trade market at some point this season, and that point is probably sometime after the draft. “Right after the draft, everyone takes a day or two, catches their breath and then takes a hard look at what they need,” Epstein said. The Cubs, of course, need starting pitching, but where their needs differ from some other teams is that rentals are probably not going to be the primary focus. The vacancies in their rotation beyond this season are painfully obvious, so pitchers with multiple years of control are likely to be the focus (my words, not Epstein’s).
- And finally, on the Cubs’ newest call-up, Ian Happ, Epstein’s comments were complimentary, but reserved. “When you call someone up, you always have plans in pencil,” Epstein said. “Nothing’s ever written in ink.” Beyond that, however, Epstein made sure to add that while they were not anticipating a long-term stay, that’s something they’re constantly reevaluating. Happ’s positional flexibility (and comfort at multiple positions on the field) has apparently played a big role in his heavy usage early on. It’s not necessarily likely (at this point), but it is slightly more possible that we may be seeing more of Happ than we originally thought. He’s expected to start again tonight for the Cubs.