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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Column: Chicago Cubs reach All-Star break by ending 9-game skid. Will the second part show signs of progress?

Reporters keenly inspected the damaged Chicago Cubs bat rack at Wrigley Field on Sunday morning, searching for clues like paleontologists digging for dinosaur bones.

Pieces of metal either bent or torn, with a broken hand sanitizer holding a piece of masking tape together and a scuffed piece of wood on the frame were telltale signs that someone – or perhaps several people – could be holding the players. The ‘bats and helmets’ came out on the wooden structure.

The pit-up bat rack served as a perfect metaphor for the 2022 Cubs season, which reached the end of the first half on Sunday with a 3-2 comeback win over the New York Mets.

Nico Horner’s run-scoring single in the eighth of two gave the Cubs their first win since July 2 against the Boston Red Sox at Wrigley.

“When you lose too many games in a row, you almost forget what it feels like,” said pitcher Adrian Sampson. “When you win a lot of games… you just know how to win. It’s a good reminder to people that this game is hard. We’re in the major leagues, and winning is hard. ,

The Cubs avoided their second 10-game losing streak and improved to 18–32 at Wrigley, exiting a last-place tie with the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Central. They are on pace with 51 home losses, which would eclipse their all-time worst mark of 31-50 in 2013.

Sampson’s pitching and some late innings valor sent the 34,424 crowd home in a good mood. The Mets scored their two runs on a home steal by Starling Marte on Sampson, after a botched pickoff play at first base and an RBI blooper by Pete Alonso in fifth after first baseman Frank Schwindell mishandled short right field.

But Horner’s third single gave the Cubs the lead in eighth, and David Robertson closed the door in the ninth.

After Saturday’s doubleheader loss to the Mets, manager David Ross praised the team’s effort against a “first-place team with a $300 million payroll.” It’s actually $259 million, but who’s counting?

Still, Ross suggested that the Cubs are the smaller engine that a big-market franchise valued by Forbes at $3.36 billion could do instead. The truth is that Cubs president Tom Ricketts chose this route and could compete with the Mets’ payroll if he wanted.

But you can’t blame Ross for feeling like he’s being asked to win war after war without enough weapons, even though he knew what he was doing. The Cubs lead 33-64 in their final 97 games in 2021 and are 35-57 at the break, giving them a .360 win percentage (68-121) under Ross since June 13, 2021. His predecessor, Joe Maddon, posted a .581 win percentage in the five years before moving north.

Ahead of Sunday’s game, Ross said he welcomed the challenge to bring the organization back in honor.

“I think we all know we’re not where we want to be,” Ross said. “But the tough challenges we go through make us better every single day, myself included. Players, in the environment we’re working in now, we’re going to be able to handle those moments better for years to come. Playing good teams (and) competing deeply in games, extra innings games, these are all really good things. We have to figure out ways to win the ballgame, and I think we will.

Whether or not most of the players who learned from the first-half struggle will be here in “the coming years” is questionable. Some probably won’t be here after the August 2 trade deadline, including All-Star catcher Wilson Contreras, who was caught in a 1-for-36 fall before his eighth-inning singles Sunday.

Cubs president Jade Hoyer is expected to take off in the next few weeks, although “unloaded” may not be the proper terminology. Back in 1997, when the Cubs lost their first 14 games and came off the All-Star break with a win-or-other decree from the front office, manager Jim Riggleman corrected a reporter who had used the term.

“It’s not cattle here,” Rigelman said. “We don’t use words like ‘unload.’ It’s not about unloading.”

Likewise, the Cubs would prefer you not use the word “rebuild” after 25 years. It’s always something with this outfit. Maybe they should hand them a list of forbidden words in spring training.

As bad as the ’97 Cubs team was, they set a 37-50 record in the break despite a 0-14 start.

Shortstop Sean Dunston then said, “You can’t get down and dislike each other because that could definitely be bad.” “It’s a good team. But everyone loves you when you win. And when you lose nobody does. We have to like each other, whether we like it or not.”

This year’s team has recovered, and Horner said there is a lot more to look forward to in the second half.

“The heat at Wrigley is always a positive to start, so at least it’s guaranteed,” he said. “Take it for what it is, whatever is next. The Cubs have always done a great job of keeping quality people in the clubhouse, even the business we have done in the last three, four years. That’s something I’ve always been very grateful for. … At least we have good guys who are going to compete hard for the rest of the season.”

You never know what the future will bring. One of the most thrilling rides in franchise history came after the defeat of the ’98 Cubs, ’97. Still, it can be a long climb to get this team back, and it all starts Friday in Philadelphia.

For now, take a deep breath and relax.

The worst part is over, isn’t it?

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World Nation News Desk
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