WASHINGTON –- The prospect of another summer sell-off goes as far back as last September, when the Cubs talked about how important it would be to get off to a good start this season.
Alfonso Soriano will always be at the center of that speculation with a shrug and a smile. He isn’t the same 40/40 guy who used that monster season with the Washington Nationals to get a $136 million megadeal. But he’s always kept that sense of youthful optimism, never going negative or turning cynical.
The Cubs saw positive signs during Sunday’s 2-1 comeback victory at Nationals Park, where manager Dale Sveum made his “Men vs. Boys” declaration last September. It took the kind of crazy bounce they haven’t been getting.
Soriano led off the ninth inning with a single off Rafael Soriano and timed the Nationals closer, sprinting to third base on the first pitch to Welington Castillo as part of a double steal. Castillo didn’t move, blocking the throwing lane for catcher Kurt Suzuki.
The ball hit Castillo’s bat and kept going up the left-field line, allowing Soriano to score the go-ahead run. The day after beating Stephen Strasburg’s no-hit stuff, the Cubs ended the perfect game for Gio Gonzalez in the sixth inning and took a series from the defending National League East champs.
“I believe,” Soriano said. “The record that we have doesn’t show how good we’ve been playing. We’ve been playing very good and I believe that everything will be OK. Sometimes you have to learn the hard way and be strong because this game (isn’t) easy.
[RELATED: Cubs searching for their pitching building blocks]
“This (has been) a little test for us. (Just) keep working hard and we’ll be fine, because we have too much talent on this team.”
Absolutely, general manager Jed Hoyer said, there’s still time to turn the season around.
The Cubs will return to Wrigley Field on Monday at 15-22, beginning a softer six-game homestand against the Colorado Rockies and New York Mets. They have to start making up ground or else there could be another fire sale like the one at last year’s trade deadline, which left them with a Triple-A Iowa rotation.
“You know things like that are possible,” Sveum said. “You weigh all the options and what’s best for the organization to get it healthy. Those are the things you have to do sometimes. It’s not that easy to see a (Ryan) Dempster and a (Paul) Maholm go somewhere else, but it is part of the game.
“We’re trying to get this thing completely healthy. Depending on what we do, (we’ll see) where we’re at (by) the time all this stuff happens.”
The Cubs got another strong start from Scott Feldman (six innings, one run and a one-year deal that makes him a flippable asset). Starlin Castro came through with a two-out RBI single up the middle off Nationals reliever Drew Storen in the eighth inning. Kevin Gregg (0.00 ERA) closed it out for his sixth save, restoring order again in the ninth inning.
[RELATED: Garza will force Cubs to make tough decision]
“We’ve been in so many baseball games that the guys know (there’s still time),” Sveum said. “We’ve lost so many games that we had control over (and) know that this record could be flip-flopped with a little better play, because the pitching has kept us in so many games.”
Soriano says he feels young again being around players like Castro and Anthony Rizzo, and the Cubs left Washington with a similar bounce.
“We haven’t had a good run yet,” Soriano said, “but I hope this is a start.”