ATLANTA – Frank Wren scanned the dugout looking for Cubs officials, walked up the left-field line and waved his arms, telling the group of relievers to get off his lawn. They kept warming up and playing catch.
The Atlanta Braves general manager ducked into the tunnel and marched into the manager’s office, asking Dale Sveum to clear the field so his players could do defensive work while the team took batting practice.
Hand on his hip, Wren stood on the cage and watched the Cubs eventually walk back to the clubhouse. When Sveum emerged for Friday’s pregame media session, he said the “BP times got all goofed up” but otherwise stayed out of it: “I wasn’t even out there, so I can’t comment on it.”
[RELATED: In a flashback moment, Sveum feels the pain of Louisville's Ware]
For the Cubs, this 4-1 loss at Turner Field became a weird way to start a stretch of 19 straight games against teams that finished above .500 last season, including 13 against playoff teams. It could very well define this season.
“That was last year’s playoff teams,” Matt Garza said. “Things change.”
Garza was upbeat after throwing 25 pitches off a mound on Thursday in his recovery from a lat muscle injury that has lingered for almost two months. He traveled from Arizona and will remain with the team through his next two or three bullpen sessions. He hopes to go out on a minor-league rehab assignment and rejoin the rotation in a few weeks.
“I’m pushing for early May and I’m pushing hard, too,” Garza said.
On Opening Day, team president Theo Epstein laid out the scenario where everything breaks right: The Cubs win the close games in April, get off to a good start and create a sense of momentum. They get healthy and take advantage of a schedule that gets weaker later in the season.
The reinforcements could then make a difference: Garza; Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney (knee); No. 4 starter Scott Baker (recovery from Tommy John surgery); and enigmatic third baseman Ian Stewart (quad).
“I think we can do better than just hang around,” Garza said. “We’re right where we need to be. The team’s in a good mood, good spirits and everybody’s just excited to be playing ball again.”
Or else the front office holds another fire sale at the trade deadline, but Garza’s almost always optimistic. Remember he once proclaimed “we’re right where we need to be” in July 2011 after a comeback win in Washington left the Cubs 17 games under .500.
[MORE: Wrigley deal will get done, franchise value will soar]
The Cubs (2-2) needed more out of Scott Feldman, who threw 102 pitches and couldn’t finish the fifth inning. He was one pitch away when Juan Francisco lined a two-out, two-run single into left field, making it a 4-1 game.
In his Cubs debut, Feldman gave up four runs on five hits and four walks. He threw two wild pitches and hit another batter.
“That’s a tough lineup,” Feldman said. “They battled well and made me throw way too many pitches.”
Through four games, the Cubs have scored seven runs. They hope Alfonso Soriano doesn’t wait to hit his first home run until May 15, like he did last season. Anthony Rizzo drilled the first pitch he saw this season for a two-run homer, but he’s 0-for-11 since then.
“Nobody’s swinging the bat at all right now, so somebody’s gonna have to step up and get hot,” Sveum said. “Hopefully, it’s the whole team at one time. But we don’t really have a whole lot going on offensively.”
The tomahawk-chopping crowd of 33,443 watched Justin Upton homer in the first inning and lefty Mike Minor (7.1 innings, one run, seven strikeouts) dominate. Craig Kimbrel closed it out, entering to Guns N’ Roses, “Welcome to The Jungle,” with his last name on fire all across the video boards, like a scene out of “Eastbound & Down.”
The Braves (3-1) presumably have their BP times in order for Saturday night. The Cubs have a top-down, business/baseball plan built on selling hope for the years ahead. Even if this season isn’t the focus, the next three weeks will be telling.
“It would mean a lot,” Sveum said. “It’s very important to get your head above water and then get completely healthy and go from there.”