Well, the All-Star Game is in the rearview mirror and the Cubs are already well past the half-way point in their schedule (there’s only 72 games left!). But the Trade Deadline is coming up and the Cubs are in first place, so a LOT can – and will! – still happen to change the trajectory of the season.
Speaking towards all of that and a little more is Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who joined 670 The Score earlier this morning. I’ll have the audio link for you as soon as it’s up at 670 The Score, but in the meantime here’s the highlights of the interview.
What follows is all straight from Hoyer, with the best and most faithful paraphrasing I could type live.
- Lost in the frustration of the offense at large is the fact that we have a lot of guys having really great seasons (Hoyer specifically mentioned Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez). And the fact that Bryant and Contreras have bounced back from disappointing second-halves is huge and shouldn’t go unnoticed.
- The managers I’ve been with over the years – Terry Francona, Bud Black, Joe Maddon – have also been my go-to guys/mentors when times are tough, like they are right now. They’re all incredibly measured and see the game well. Being around guys like that, and seeing how they assess things, is really helpful. Hopefully, I can pass some things along to others as I get older and gain more experience in this sport.
- There’s no perfect way to deal with the noise of a frustrating season. With that said, you can try to divide the season into 10-game chunks or 20-game chunks to try not to get upset with individual outcomes. But this is a sport where the best teams still win just 6 out of 10 times. It’s not the NBA and it’s not the NFL, where you can just always dominate your opponent if you’re the better team. Fortunately, even though we’ve had good streaks and bad streaks, no one else has run away with this division yet, so the second-half will define this season. And that’s a good position to be in.
- For our players, the apparent changes to the baseball have been a constant source of discussion. And if we’re having those discussions, I’m sure everyone else around the league is, too. But I can’t blame the players. If what you do for a living is changed dramatically, you’re going to take notice. So I get that it’s a constant source of frustration, especially for the pitchers. With that said, I do think it’s too much of a topic and I hope it recedes in the second-half, but I don’t think it will.
- One of our hallmarks in recent years has been our balance around the diamond, but this year is obviously different and second base has been an issue. Ben Zobrist has been gone, Ian Happ is in Iowa, and Daniel Descalso is struggling. This is basically the worst depth, one through twelve on the roster we’ve had since we’ve been good. (Theo Epstein said something similar last week. Harsh, but true.)
- Having a guy like Craig Kimbrel at the back of the bullpen can change the entire mentality of the team – just being able to hand a game over to him, knowing he can lock it down. I thought his stuff was fantastic the other night and he looked like vintage Kimbrel, but he’ll have his ups and downs, too. There’ll be struggles, but when you have a guy like that to pass the baton too in the ninth, it can lift the entire team. His presence helps the offense feel like they don’t have to score a ton of runs to win on any given night. And clean wins in low scoring games can really raise some spirits.
- I think Joe Maddon has been incredibly active and engaged this year, and, as far as Kris Bryant’s positive comments go, it’s not a surprise – they’ve always been really close. We’re all constantly having discussions about how to improve and how to get out of this rut (which I think he meant to come across as “it isn’t Joe’s fault”). One of the best things about continuity is that you can fall back on shared experiences in tough times. And Maddon can provide that. You can’t talk that way with someone “new,” someone you don’t know as much.
- With Ben Zobrist, we always try to be respect with that situation and not put any time tables on it, but I think Zobrist will impact the 2019 Cubs. Same goes for Adbert Alzolay. You need guys like that to come and deliver unexpectedly good performances – like Jesse Chavez last year – and I think both of those guys can do it. It can’t be Rizzo or Bryant or Baez or Contreras, it has to be someone else stepping up.
- As for how we proceed with the Trade Deadline, we’re fortunate to be in first place, but we’re only 4 games over .500. We haven’t played like a first place team in a very long time, so, yes, we’re very lucky. But obviously that position does still matter at the deadline. Every team is going to be more aggressive with a chance to win the division – as opposed to a Wild Card slot/one game playoff. And I’m sure the Brewers and Cardinals are equally frustrated and are having similar discussions right now.