SAN DIEGO The last time the Cubs were at Petco Park, chairman Tom Ricketts was still gathering information for a decision that could define his familys legacy as owners of this marquee franchise.
On the final day of the 2011 season, Ricketts agreed to an interview with the beat writers. He was vague about the executive search that would end with Theo Epstein who would be universally praised as a home-run hire but he did talk about expectations.
Ricketts stood in the visiting dugout and pointed to the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks as an example.
One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said last September. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.
You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently.
Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.
Epstein has flipped the roster since taking over at Clark and Addison, but the Cubs (43-64) long ago braced for the growing pains and have now decided that its no longer about wins and losses.
There are 55 games left after Mondays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres, and that space will essentially become a laboratory. There will be nights where Brett Jackson goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.
Thats just where we are in the organization, manager Dale Sveum said. We knew going in there was a good chance this was going to happen and that day has come.
Now we get to develop at the big-league level the Brett Jacksons, the (Josh) Vitters, the (Alberto) Cabreras, the (Brooks) Raleys, Travis Woods. All these guys its time to develop and take those extra steps to be a major-league player on an everyday basis.
The day after going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, Jackson had to answer questions about the one part of his game that didnt look ready at Triple-A Iowa.
Thats the nature of the business, Jackson said. Its never fun to strike out four times. Thats something Im working on cutting down. Im going to keep working with (hitting coach James Rowson) and Dale and improving the swing. Theres no doubt in my mind were going to get the ability out of me.
The Cubs like Jacksons overall game enough the speed, the athleticism, the power that they promoted him after 158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats with Iowa.
Hes going to be in there, Sveum said. That was part of the deal. Hes going to be here to develop and make adjustments. But bottom line, it doesnt matter if youre not swinging at strikes.
This isnt to single out Jackson, who is one of several players with something to prove between now and Oct. 3.
Raley will be the 15th rookie the Cubs have used this season when he debuts on Tuesday night at Petco Park. This is a spot start in place of Matt Garza, whose stiff right elbow wont allow him to pick up a ball for at least two weeks and leaves him in the limbo of being reevaluated each homestand.
Trades and attrition have wiped out the pitching depth Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer built up last winter. Jeff Samardzija whos already blown past the innings total he reached last season as a reliever now has the most stature in the rotation in his first year as a big-league starter.
Wood (4-8, 4.77 ERA) who limited the Padres (47-64) to two runs across six innings is one of four starting pitchers who have spent time on the Triple-A level this season.
Were a very young team, but I think we can use that to our favor, Wood said. Were energetic. We got fire. We just need to start playing and get after it.
On Sept. 28, 2011, Mike Quade sat in the managers office and Hoyer was the Padres general manager who had made Anthony Rizzo the face of the future in San Diego. That day, Ryan Dempster gave up nine runs and lost his 14th game and Rizzo went 0-for-3 and finished with a .141 batting average.
The Cubs stuck around in the clubhouse afterward and pulled beers from the cooler, watching the fantastic finishes on side-by-side televisions, the Boston Red Sox in agony and the Tampa Bay Rays in celebration.
Epstein has total control over baseball operations, and a mandate to build this team from within. At this stage, players like Jackson are going to find out what theyre made of, while the Cubs live with all the ups and downs.