Cubs battle before seeing Brewers clinch

September 19th, 2021

MILWAUKEE -- As the Cubs have reshaped their roster and shifted the focus to development and planning for the future, manager David Ross has strived to maintain his personal priorities.

For Ross, his bottom line is straight forward.

"I try to win, create a winning culture," Ross said, "make that the priority around here no matter what. If we ever lose sight of that, then we're not doing ourselves, the team, the organization justice."

In a 6-4 loss to the Brewers on Saturday night, the balance Ross is trying to achieve was on display. With a postseason berth up for grabs for Milwaukee, Chicago made things difficult on both Corbin Burnes and Josh Hader. And then there was plenty of development -- and growing pains -- on display for Chicago’s young arms.

There were theatrics -- Willson Contreras was booed by the Milwaukee crowd for admiring his game-tying shot in the seventh, and later ejected amid cheers after arguing a strike-three call in the ninth -- and a last-minute rally that fell short.

Yes, it was another defeat, and one that ended with the Brewers officially punching their ticket to the October stage, but Ross praised the effort. Right now, that is where the manager has to keep his focus, as the victories have been harder to come by.

"This place was on its feet," said Ross, whose team has dropped its 11th straight matchup against the Brewers, dating back to April. "[It was a] really electric atmosphere there at the end. I'm just super proud of what we did tonight offensively."

The front office will spend this coming offseason and the next few years building on this offense. Ross views his role as continuing to build the environment and a brand of play that can be established from the ground up.

After this season ends, Ross plans on heading to Arizona for instructional league. The manager wants to get his eyes on some of the team's prospects, but he also wants to meet with the player development staff to discuss the long-term vision for the organization.

"I just want to make sure, from a coaching standpoint," Ross said, "we're trying to implement or coach or reminding the players about little advantages that we're going to try to take advantage of here at the big league level. And start seeing if guys can start processing that in-game."

In a perfect world, Ross would love a versatile offense filled with a mixture of players with varying skill-sets that present matchup problems. The manager has also said that a fundamentally sound roster built around stellar pitching, defense and baserunning is what he views as the ideal foundation.

Offensively, the Cubs worked Burnes for three runs in six innings and snapped his streak of 36 consecutive batters without allowing a hit. Ian Happ went deep off the righty, who had not given up a homer since Aug. 6.

On the pitching front, Justin Steele (a rotation candidate next year), Adbert Alzolay (another piece to the starting puzzle) and Scott Effross (trying to gain trust in the bullpen) yielded four home runs combined in their latest appearances.

"Obviously, the lineup and the players on the team, they're a little different now," Steele said. "We got rid of some guys, but we're going out there and we're trying to win ballgames no matter what."

Ross was asked how he would evaluate himself in this tale of two seasons. The manager reiterated that his bottom line rests with the win-loss column.

"That's what this chair brings," Ross said.

Really, though, Ross could not have prepared for what his chair brought over the past two years. After winning the division in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Ross saw the Cubs' core broken up at a franchise-altering Trade Deadline this year.

"I can't think of a more challenging first two years as a manager," Cubs shortstop Nico Hoerner said. "If there's learning by experience, he's definitely gotten every experience so far. I've always appreciated just how direct and honest he is."

Ross was certainly honest when asked about the toll a big league managerial job can have on a person.

"I never had trouble sleeping until I got this job," Ross said with a laugh.

Ross will rest easier when the Cubs get back to the top of the NL Central standings.

"Losing and getting your butt kicked gets frustrating," he said. "But it's also knowing you're getting better in moments and learning through moments and making sure we teach in the mistakes or the moments where we can improve."