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Theo Epstein: ‘Our solutions with hitters are on the 25-man roster’

Cubs president Theo Epstein greets ex-Cub Matt Szczur at Petco Field Tuesday (Photo: John Antonoff for the Sun-Times).

SAN DIEGO — For much of the last month, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has called the lineup’s up-and-down, strikeout-prone performance ‘‘hitting young.’’

Implicit in that description is the promise of growth.

But with nearly a third of the season gone, is it possible it might persist for the long haul?

‘‘I hope not,’’ Maddon said before the Cubs lost to the Padres 6-2 on Tuesday at Petco Park, extending their losing streak to five.

He doesn’t think it will. And the organization is banking on it, with the focus on outside help continuing to be pitching for a starting staff with precious little depth.

But the track records of some of the hitters the Cubs are betting their championship defense on are anything but established.

• Struggling Kyle Schwarber, 24, had half a regular season of big-league experience entering 2017, despite two big postseasons.

• Starting catcher Willson Contreras, 25, had even fewer games in the majors, despite starting five World Series games last fall.

• May call-up Ian Happ, 22, has less than three weeks in the majors, has slumped half that time and “probably” will be back in the lineup Wednesday after two mental days on the bench.

• Even All-Star shortstop Addison Russell, 23, opened the season with less than two full seasons of big-league time and a .240 average. He took a .220 average and three home runs into the game Tuesday.

But Cubs president Theo Epstein said pitching is the area of greater concern and pursuit as the team considers the summer trading season. He said it was ‘‘very unlikely’’ the Cubs would try to add hitting help.

‘‘I think our solutions with hitters are on the 25-man roster right now,’’ he said. ‘‘There’s a gap between talent and performance. When it mattered most last year, there was no deficit. Our talent manifested, and we played really good baseball.

‘‘That’s going to happen again. It hasn’t consistently for the first third of the season, and we have to own that and [be] accountable for it. [But] he talent level of our players collectively and individually hasn’t changed.’’

The performance, however, has dropped off dramatically. The Cubs are in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories and are last in the National League in hitting with men in scoring position.

In addition to sitting Happ for the last two games, Maddon thought about dropping former leadoff man Schwarber even lower in the order than second if his troubles persist. Meanwhile, he used Jon Jay in the fifth spot to protect cleanup man Anthony Rizzo on Tuesday.

What if the young guys take all summer to come out of their funk?

‘‘You’d really have to roll snake eyes, regardless of age, for players to underperform their projections or their talent level that uniformly over the course of a whole season,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘Could it happen? Yes, it could happen. We don’t think it’s going to happen.

‘‘We also have a lot of good players, and we have a lot of different lineups we can put out there and a lot of different players we can lean on to carry us. We just need a few guys to get going to make our offense really viable. And we need time.

‘‘When that gap exists, it’s a better position to be in than not having the talent. We’re just not playing well enough, but we are plenty talented. It’s on us to figure it out sooner rather than later.’’

<em>Schwarber hits 0-2 fastball into seats to briefly tie game in top of fifth (Photo: John Antonoff).</em>
Schwarber hits 0-2 fastball into seats to briefly tie game in top of fifth (Photo: John Antonoff).

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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