The Cubs dream about the day when they are buyers, not sellers, feeling the energy when a new player walks into the room instead of watching teammates pack their bags and say goodbye.
The importance of a good start sunk in 10 months ago, during the final days of a 101-loss season, and the questions about another fire sale restarted in spring training.
Inside the clubhouse, the feeling is that outfielder Nate Schierholtz and closer Kevin Gregg are most likely to be traded by 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Getting swept by the Milwaukee Brewers in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field illustrated why the 48-58 Cubs are in this position. They didn’t even make it a difficult decision for the front office at the non-waiver deadline.
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Game 2 pivoted with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth inning and Gregg trying to protect a one-run lead. Jeff Bianchi hit a line drive to Starlin Castro’s right. The shortstop dove, extended his arm and landed on his stomach in the outfield grass as the ball popped out of the palm of his glove, allowing two runs to score in a 3-2 loss.
“I ran hard,” said Castro, who realized the ball was hit softer than what he initially read off the bat. “I thought I got it. I did the best I could to catch that ball. I feel really bad.”
It took away from a nice Cubs debut by Jake Arrieta, who went six innings, allowing one run on two hits, and will be sent back to Triple-A Iowa. Blown saves – No. 21 and No. 22 this season – became the bookends against a last-place Brewers team.
“For the last couple months, we’ve been playing really well,” Gregg said. “So if things played out different there in April, who knows where we’d be at right now? But the Cardinals and Pirates really took charge in this division and put our backs against the wall.”
The Los Angeles Dodgers released Gregg in April and he became a stabilizing force at the back end of the bullpen from the moment he joined the Cubs, saving 22 games when Carlos Marmol and Kyuji Fujikawa couldn’t do the job. Gregg won’t necessarily close in October, but he can be a solid late-inning reliever for a contender.
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James Russell, another reliever eyed by teams in the race, blew another save in Game l. The lefty entered in the seventh inning and immediately gave up a game-tying, three-run homer to Khris Davis, ruining what would have been a quality start for Carlos Villanueva and taking the 6-5 loss.
Villanueva, who signed a two-year, $10 million deal over the winter, isn’t expected to be dealt. He’s been about what the Cubs expected, providing value as a swingman and going 2-7 with a 4.33 ERA and accounting for nearly 100 innings. But almost everyone in the room gets these questions now.
“I’ve been traded before, so I really don’t care about that,” Villanueva said. “If somebody wants me and the Cubs want to deal me, I’m gone, I guess. I understand that part of the business real well and that’s something that I don’t really lose much sleep over.
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“As long as I’m wearing the Cubs uniform, I’m giving my heart out there every time. That’s why it hurts every time we lose, because you want to give these fans and my teammates and everybody the best I got. So as long as I’m here, I’ll give my best.”
At least the rumors that have become a running joke in the clubhouse are about to be over.
“You guys (in the media) make it a much bigger deal than I do,” manager Dale Sveum said. “I don’t really think about it. I got a job to do and all that stuff takes care of itself if anything does happen.”