Theo Epstein expected some rough stretches. He just didn’t envision anything like this.
A few hours after addressing his team’s skid, the Chicago Cubs broke one of the longest losing streaks in franchise history, beating the San Diego Padres 11-7 on Monday.
That ended a 12-game slide. The work, however, is just beginning.
”I saw tough stretches, but I don’t think this is indicative of the type of team we are,” Epstein said before the game. ”I think we’re clearly better than this.”
Only seven times in their cursed history had the Cubs dropped 12 or more in a row, and they entered Monday’s game on their worst losing streak since they started the 1997 season with a franchise-record 14 straight defeats. For all the optimism surrounding Epstein’s arrival as president of baseball operations in the offseason, the results are awfully familiar.
Of course, he needs time. He also realizes something needs to change.
One thing that won’t is the plan.
Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer said they will continue to build for the future, but they don’t want this season to get worse than it already is.
”On both fronts, short- and long-term, there’s work to do,” Epstein said. ”In the short term, in the trenches, there’s a lot of work to do to get ourselves to a respectable level. This is a bad stretch. Just sort of appeal to the base instincts and start scrapping and keep grinding for pride. Long term, it underscores the magnitude of the job here and sort of how far we need to go to get where we want to be.”
On Monday, they let out a sigh of relief. A big one, at that.
Not since they beat St. Louis on May 14 had they won a game, and the losses certainly were wearing on them.
”We lost 10 in a row, but now that’s in the past, so now we have to try to win 10 in a row,” Alfonso Soriano said after collecting three hits with a home run. ”We have to turn it around. You have to believe in this team because we’re not that bad.”
The Cubs brought in Epstein and Hoyer, hoping they would help lift that championship albatross that’s been hovering over them for more than a century. Chicago last won it all in 1908, when the Model T was rolling off the assembly line.
With a new management team in place, there was a new sense of hope when the season began.
After all, Epstein built the team that in that in 2004 ended Boston’s 86-year championship drought and then won another title in 2007.
For now, the Cubs are simply taking their hits.
Hoyer called the losing streak ”torturous” and insisted better times are ahead. Manager Dale Sveum sympathized with the players before the game, and when it was over, he made no effort to hide his relief. He played for Milwaukee in 1987 and was a part of a 12-game losing streak that year. That team ultimately finished with 91 wins.
”Let’s not kid yourself,” said Sveum, in his first season as Cubs manager. ”You lose 12 in a row, you finally win … thank God I didn’t break my streak. It’s a big relief. All the guys, like I said today, you feel bad for them. It’s tough. It shows you sometimes how tough it is to win a major league baseball game. Then to lose 12 in a row … hopefully something like that gets everything going, the bats.”
Hoyer called the skid ”a really painful bump that we’re going through right now on the way to get there.”
The starting pitching, with Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster leading the way, has been solid. The bullpen has been a mess, repeatedly blowing games. Carlos Marmol lost his job as the closer, and Kerry Wood struggled before retiring.
At the plate, things haven’t been much better.
Only three major league teams scored fewer runs entering Monday and with a .244 average, the Cubs ranked 21st.
”We’re losing right now and teams are beating us and we’re on this kind of a streak, and it seems like a bad dream,” said Bryan LaHair, one of the few bright spots in the lineup with a .312 average and 10 homers. ”But if you’re not becoming more hungry to want to win and go on 12-game winning streaks, then I don’t know. I know it’s what it’s doing to me.”
He said it’s not tough to show up at the ballpark. It is tough to leave during a stretch like this.
”It beats you down more after the game than before because you’ve lost,” LaHair said.
It’s not what Soriano envisioned when he signed that $136 million, eight-year contract before the 2007 season. He thought he was going to help the Cubs capture that elusive championship, and they came close, making the playoffs during his first two years.
Since then, they’ve been on a steady decline and so has the veteran slugger.
”Sometimes, it’s like hard to believe where we are right now,” Soriano said. ”We played so good. And the last 12 games, we’re nothing.”
Hoyer said the Cubs are ”very open” to making changes, but they don’t want to be ”dumping guys off just to make a point.” They would probably love to trade Soriano, but finding takers is not easy.
Dempster has an expiring contract and might be attractive to a contender. Garza might be, too. He’s eligible for arbitration after the season, and the Cubs might want to keep the 28-year-old.
”When you rip the scab off, sometimes there’s some pain until we grow some new skin,” Epstein said. ”We’re going places. This is a tough road.”