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Attention, 2015 Cubs: Mark Grace says the 1989 team can provide lessons

PHOENIX — It’s probably too early to start calling this start to the Cubs’ season a foundation for sustained success — much less to start measuring its sustainability.

But with most in the clubhouse touting this team as a playoff contender, a lost weekend in the desert is at least a reminder of the size of the task.

This first relevant season in years headed into Memorial Day off a break-even road trip that ended with a 4-3 loss to the pedestrian Arizona Diamondbacks.

They hit nine home runs on the trip, committed eight errors, struck out 61 times and blew two saves in six games.

They also got a complete game from second-year starter Kyle Hendricks on Thursday, six RBI from Anthony Rizzo on Saturday and four multihit games from rookie Jorge Soler.

So who are these guys as they reach the traditional Memorial Day milepost — with the red-hot Washington Nationals and defending American League champion Kansas City Royals coming this week to Wrigley Field?

Mark Grace seems to think they look familiar.

A burgeoning homegrown core, a few key veteran pitchers and a couple of established middle-of-the-order hitters?

“When we won in ’89, won the old National League East, we were young,” said Grace, the former Cubs All-Star first baseman now working as the Diamondbacks’ assistant hitting coach. “Ryne [Sandberg] and Andre [Dawson] were still in their prime. There were a lot of young guys.”

Rick Sutcliffe and Greg Maddux were in the rotation. Jerome Walton and Dwight Smith debuted early that season and finished 1-2 in Rookie of the Year balloting. Grace was in his second year in the majors, All-Star shortstop Shawon Dunston in his fifth. Joe Girardi debuted that year.

Talk about a foundation for sustained success.

“When we won the division, a lot of us thought, man, this could happen much more often,” Grace said. “And we were very wrong. It didn’t.

“It’s hard. Winning is hard.”

That’s not to say this Cubs team has any reason to think it will eventually go the direction of that one.

For one thing, it’s hard to imagine this team’s equivalent of Maddux being allowed to walk as a free agent if he wants to stay.

“Things change,” said Cubs bench coach Dave Martinez, the ex-Cub who broke in with that same group in the ’80s before being traded the year before the division title. “And other teams have the same feeling. And it’s hard to do.”

Martinez and manager Joe Maddon talk a lot about “staying in the moment” and “being present,” which, among other things, is meant to keep a team from getting too heady about things such as winning streaks, much less streaks of championship seasons.

Beyond that, “You’ve got to be very fortunate, and you also have to be very talented and very healthy,” Grace said. “And it looks to me like the Cubs have been drafting well and doing really well in the international market.”

The Cubs’ top three prospects — Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Soler — are in the every-day lineup, with Bryant and Russell having debuted less than a month ago. And the No. 4 prospect, Kyle Schwarber, could be ready to help the club as soon as some point this season, Maddon said before the game Sunday.

“Obviously, they’ve got Bryant, and I’m a huge fan of Rizzo,” Grace said. “Those guys are solidifying the middle of the order.

“When your middle of the order, the heart and soul of your order, is young and talented like that, the future’s bright.”

Just not always certain. Never guaranteed.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub