Growing pains part of process for Cubs

August 13th, 2021

CHICAGO -- Given the current state of the Cubs, who stripped down their core at the Trade Deadline and began plotting for the future, it would be fair for some fans to begin believing in the benefit of losing in the name of MLB Draft positioning.

That concept led to a laugh and a roll of the eyes from manager David Ross on Thursday morning.

"The reaction to that is words I can't say," Ross said. "Tell them to come sit next to me in the dugout and see how that feels."

Thursday's 17-4 loss to the Brewers at Wrigley Field continued a rough, prolonged stretch of defeats for the North Siders. uncharacteristically allowed nine runs in four-plus innings, halting his 16-start unbeaten streak and sending Chicago to its eighth consecutive loss.

Ross has preached the values of teaching and development for these final two months, but the manager has also emphasized and reiterated how much he dislikes all the losing. And there has been a lot of it lately.

Dating back to June 25, when the Cubs were in first place and riding the high of a no-hitter against the Dodgers, Chicago has gone 10-32, marking the most losses in the Majors. The Cubs have lost 10 straight home games for the first time since 1994, and they just experienced their first winless homestand of at least seven games since 1943.

The 13 losses to the Brewers this season match a single-season club record for the Cubs (set in 2012 and '13). Over the course of the four-game sweep at the hands of Milwaukee, the Cubs were outscored by 28 runs (37-9).

This is not what Ross wants to experience in 2022 and beyond.

"I think that's going to be evident," Ross said. "I think this organization has a lot of pride. The players that are still here, there's a lot of guys that hold themselves to a high standard. There's a youth group here that is talking about being the next championship-caliber team.

"That's the mindset we have to continue to have and continue to push moving forward and find those moments to teach and get better and areas to work on, all those things."

There is not much the team can do down the stretch in terms of fortifying the roster. When a team trades away stars like Javier Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo and parts with a lockdown bullpen trio like Craig Kimbrel, Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin at the same time, there is only so much it can do.

The Cubs are leaning on leadership from the likes of Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward and Hendricks.

"I don't think you can connect what happens here over the next two months with going forward," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said. "Obviously, right now, we're playing a bit shorthanded. We traded a lot of guys away."

Hoyer has also noted that Chicago has to wait to fully form its strategy for 2022.

"Obviously, we have thoughts and plans and things we're working on," Hoyer said. "But at the same time, it doesn't make a lot of sense to sort of lay your cards out for everyone to see. I guess there's a level of trust.

"We were able to navigate some pretty challenging waters when we got here. And I have no question we're going to be able to do the same thing."

As things stand, the Cubs have around $40 million in guaranteed payroll on the books for 2022. Negotiations over the next Collective Bargaining Agreement are looming, so that financial freedom should allow Hoyer and his front-office team to react and plan according to the next set of guidelines.

What Hoyer cannot say right now is whether the playbook the Cubs are presented with will make an aggressive pursuit of top free agents a part of the strategy. For immediate contention, that would be a necessity for next year.

"The focus, certainly going forward, is to build the next great Cubs team," said Hoyer, leaning on an oft-repeated refrain since the Deadline. "I don't think the desire is to stop short of that and just be happy with being competitive or competing."

Hendricks, who went 11-0 with a 2.79 ERA in his past 16 starts, is signed through the next two seasons with an option for 2024. After the latest loss, the leader of the Cubs’ rotation agreed that the expectation around the team is that next year will not be a repeat of the club’s final two months this season.

“It shouldn't be at all,” Hendricks said. “As far as the wins and losses from it, it shouldn't be at all. We've got to focus on the process right now, and this really is valuable experience for everybody here. Facing top arms like we have lately, just getting that experience and being in the big leagues.

“So you've got to roll with the punches, kind of, in this environment right now. But there's a lot of guys kind of getting their footing and learning their way, which is really fun to watch. And I think it'll pay off for us a lot next year.”