ST. LOUIS — “Another day in The Show, babe.”
Alfonso Soriano’s smiling face will be greeting the Cubs on Tuesday in The Bronx. They could use some of that $136 million swagger heading into Yankee Stadium. They will need his sunny outlook, every ounce of positive energy, to get through what promises to be a very long season.
The Cubs sat through another “Cardinal Way” weekend and packed for New York after Sunday’s 6-4 loss inside Busch Stadium’s sea of red. They have begun this season by losing four series after talking about the importance of getting off to a fast start since ... September 2012?
On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium, the home-run hire will be on the top step of the dugout (Joe Girardi) while the dream free agent (Masahiro Tanaka) will be on the mound. A symbol of the veteran leadership that’s been stripped from the clubhouse will be there, too, not to mention the 30-homer/100-RBI potential in the middle of the lineup.
“(Sori) took care of us, all the Latin guys,” catcher Welington Castillo said. “I remember one thing he always used to say: ‘They pay you for what you love to do, so why not go and play hard every day?’
“We take that example from him, because that’s a guy that has a lot of money and he comes every day to the field. He gets into his routine. He gets here early, goes to the cage, goes to the gym and prepares himself for the game and goes 100 percent.”
The Cubs have slashed their on-field payroll to around $75 million this season when you factor in the Soriano money going to The Bronx Bombers.
Everyone understands you need to build a good farm system. Whether or not you choose to ignore the financial handcuffs since the Ricketts family entered into a highly leveraged partnership with Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. in 2009, you can admit this isn’t all that “healthy” or necessarily building it “the right way.”
Foreclosing on major-league seasons. Making A-ball players faces of the franchise. Getting trade-deadline questions in spring training.
Last summer, three St. Louis sources had a hard time remembering the last time the Cardinals were sellers. The consensus answer: 1990, when the Cardinals shipped Willie McGee to the Oakland A’s, or the same year Starlin Castro was born.
“It’s stating the obvious, but we made a lot of those trades because we feel like we have to do that for the future,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s obviously something you want to get away from in time. It’s not a great thing for a team culture for you guys (in the media) to be asking questions of guys early on: ‘Are you going to be moved in July?’
“You guys are doing your job, and we’ve made that a trend by doing it two years in a row. But, ultimately, we want to be the opposite: ‘Who are you guys going to add? Which prospects could be traded at the deadline?’ We need to move more towards that, because that’s a much better culture for the team than this currently.
“But given the CBA and the restrictions on getting young players, you wouldn’t be looking at Mike Olt and Justin Grimm (and those other prospects) if we didn’t make those tough decisions.”
The 4-8 Cubs have lost four one-run games, dropped Jose Veras from the closer role and shown few signs of gaining ground in a tough division, sounding like a team that will lead the league in moral victories.
“Every day, we’re in it until the end,” manager Rick Renteria said. “If we keep pushing, at some point, it’s got to turn. If we were playing really bad baseball, I’d go: ‘Gosh, (I’m) really concerned.’ But you know what, the reality is they’re showing you a lot of fight.
“I guarantee you they weren’t very comfortable in the other dugout.”
The Cardinals (7-5) didn’t seem to have a problem with ex-teammate Edwin Jackson, who got a 2-0 lead before he threw a single pitch once Anthony Rizzo drilled Michael Wacha’s 94-mph first-pitch fastball into the right-field bullpen. The $52 million pitcher didn’t step on their throat, working around a 46-minute rain delay to go six innings, giving up four runs and lowering his ERA to 6.19.
“We definitely have a lot of fight,” Jackson said. “Win, lose or draw, we’re going to have a group of guys that won’t give up.”
Soriano’s genius became his ability to block out all the noise, shrugging off the boos while enjoying the cheers, a flashy player who enjoyed the grind. And it’s definitely going to be a grind for a Cubs team trying to find its identity.