Forget the talk about the Cubs being one pitch away, how if you added some big hits and subtracted a few bullpen meltdowns they might be several games over .500 instead of buried in last place.
Jed Hoyer grew up in New Hampshire, graduated from the same school as Bill Belichick (Wesleyan University in Connecticut) and worked for the Boston Red Sox during two World Series years.
Just listen to the quote the Cubs general manager likes to borrow from NFL wiseguy Bill Parcells: “You are what your record says you are.”
Before Monday’s 9-2 victory over the Texas Rangers at Wrigley Field, reporters surrounded Hoyer and asked him whether a $52 million pitcher would get bounced from the rotation (Edwin Jackson), why the franchise’s all-time leader in relief appearances still gets into games (Carlos Marmol) and if Ian Stewart went AWOL.
Other than that, the 12-20 Cubs have seen 26 of their 32 games decided by three runs or less, with more than half of their losses (12) coming by two runs or less.
“Looking at every individual baseball game is like checking your stock portfolio every day,” Hoyer said. “It’s going to go up and down and up and down.
“You have to do a good job of staying even-keeled, not getting too emotional about each individual game. But we’ve had a pattern at this point. We’re not winning those close games and (the reasons are) very clear: The bullpen has struggled and the offense hasn’t pulled games away.”
Trying to break that pattern, the Cubs played roster roulette again, adding outfielder Ryan Sweeney and reliever Rafael Dolis while optioning outfielder Dave Sappelt to Triple-A Iowa and designating right-hander Kameron Loe for assignment.
Whether or not it will be too late, the Cubs still hope Kyuji Fujikawa and Matt Garza can come off the disabled list and become difference-makers.
Fujikawa (forearm) could be cleared after Tuesday’s rehab appearance with Double-A Tennessee. Garza (lat) sounded upbeat on Monday talking with manager Dale Sveum after throwing 3.1 innings with Iowa (one run, four hits, three strikeouts, zero walks).
When asked what happens to Jackson (0-5, 6.39 ERA) when Garza’s ready to rejoin the rotation later this month, Hoyer declined to get into hypotheticals about who moves to the bullpen. But it sure doesn’t sound like a $52 million investment will be deployed in middle relief.
“Not concerned at all,” Hoyer said of Jackson. “He’s got a really long track record of success. Frankly, his consistency has been one of his biggest strengths over his career.
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“He does need to pitch better and start helping his team and he knows that. I think he’s frustrated with how he’s pitched and it feels like it’s always one inning in a game. It’s been a number of good innings, but it seems like when he gets in trouble he hasn’t had any ability to get out of it.
“I think that’ll come. Luckily, he probably has 25 more starts this year, plenty of time to turn it around. (But) obviously we expected a bit better.”
The same goes for Stewart, who underwent wrist surgery last summer, strained a quad muscle during the team’s first intrasquad scrimmage in late February and did not play over the weekend.
The Cubs formally optioned Stewart on Friday to Iowa, where he was hitting .091 (4-for-44) during his rehab assignment. The third baseman is expected to rejoin the Iowa team after using the 72-hour window a player gets before he has to officially “report.”
Bringing back Stewart on a one-year, $2 million prove-it deal looks like a miscalculation for Theo Epstein’s front office. The offense hasn’t done enough to support a rotation that entered Monday with a 3.61 ERA that ranked fourth in the National League (even before Scott Feldman tossed seven shutout innings against his old team).
“Your record is what it is – there’s no hiding from it,” Hoyer said. “We’ve struggled with winning (close) games (because) of the bullpen’s struggles (and) because we don’t turn that 3-1 game into a 5-1 game. So we’re going to have to learn how to do that as a team.
“You can say that because of our starting pitching our record’s misleading. But I don’t think our record really is misleading. We just need to get better at winning games.”
As the Cubs march through Year 2 of this rebuilding project, it’s worth remembering another saying Parcells liked to use during his Hall of Fame NFL career: No medals for trying.