MILWAUKEE – This might as well have been a billboard for your 2013 Cubs.
Even in another season of diminished expectations, you didn’t expect it to go this far south this fast. A 5-11 start can’t be written off as just youth, bad weather, injuries and a difficult schedule or simply blamed on the Hendry administration.
Dale Sveum didn’t explode after an ugly 5-1 loss to the Brewers on Saturday night at Miller Park. But the manager is clearly losing patience with a team that has now committed 15 errors and given up 11 unearned runs in April. So much for hammering the idea of fundamental play in spring training.
“We got to step up,” Sveum said. “Somebody’s got to start making plays and driving runs in because this is obviously getting old.”
[WATCH -- Soriano: We can't try to do too much]
Sveum has called meetings already, but can’t have one every night. And even though he says “there’s always options if you can’t play,” it’s not like the minor-league system is bursting with talent at the higher levels or the major-league payroll is close to where a big-market team should be.
Perhaps most alarming is watching core players like All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro and $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson commit errors – and first baseman Anthony Rizzo look shaky – in front of a sellout crowd (42,230) that didn’t have the loud pro-Cubs bias you used to hear in Milwaukee in recent years. That’s another sign of the buzz fading around this franchise.
“We’re making a lot of the same mistakes,” Sveum said. “If they’re not somewhat mental, they’re physical. So obviously they’re young, but we’re making mistakes that rookie-ball people make.”
The Brewers (8-8) took advantage in the fifth inning, which began with Alfonso Soriano running in from left field and watching the ball bounce off his glove.
Moments later, Rizzo tried to step on first base and throw home, but instead booted the ball and had to settle for one out instead of the inning-ending double play. On a two-out chopper, Castro fumbled the ball while taking it out of his glove, and the shortstop’s third error this season put the Cubs in a 3-1 deficit.
“We’re better than this,” Soriano said. “I think everybody pushes too much and tries to do too much. We just got to come back tomorrow and be relaxed and just let the talent play the game.”
After signing that big contract, Jackson is now 0-3 with a 4.84 ERA through four starts. He was charged with five runs – one earned – and didn’t help his own cause in the two-run sixth inning by throwing a potential double-play ball into center field.
[WATCH -- Jackson: You can't control wins and losses]
“Nobody’s panicking,” Jackson said. “It’s just a matter of going out and doing it. We can preach and practice and preach and practice all you want. But at the end of the day, you still have to go out and make plays.”
It’s not clear what Sveum can do next to shake up his team.
“You’re not going to work any harder than these guys have worked, can’t do any more fundamentals,” Sveum said. “When you get on that stage out there in a big-league stadium, you have to perform. It’s the difference of guys that play here for a long time and guys that get cups of coffee and don’t have careers here.”
No one predicted the Cubs would win 90 games or even contend for the second wild card. But you also didn’t think they would be this sloppy in Year 2 of the rebuilding project. How they respond will be telling.
As Sveum said: “To win in the big leagues, you have to have people that perform – and perform for 162 days and not once in awhile. … Otherwise, you lose your jobs.”