Chris Archer beat the Cubs and then talked about being a part of a World Series champion.
But not last year’s World Series champs.
“Rumors are just rumors,” said Archer, the one-time Cubs prospect who pitched six powerful innings Tuesday to help the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Cubs 6-5 in the opener of a two-game series.
“My main focus is winning a World Series with the team I’m on, and I think we have a really good team. I think we can do something special here. So when I read those [rumors], I don’t really pay attention to it.”
Besides, the Rays might not be as quick to trade their controllable young ace the way they’ve played lately. They’ve won three of their last four and 15 of 25 to look a lot more like a playoff team in the tougher American League East than the Cubs have looked in the weak -National League Central all year.
And the Cubs never thought they could compete in the Archer-Sonny Gray pitching market this summer, even before their tepid play started to dampen their enthusiasm.
“I do think how this team plays makes a difference in terms of how aggressive you’re going to be at the deadline,” general manager Jed Hoyer said one day before the Cubs started their 1-3 skid.
The Cubs were sunk Tuesday by a five-run fourth inning that included a basket-shot two-run homer, a show-bunt/slap-shot RBI single by Archer and a two-run double off starter Jon Lester that rolled into right field.
But the bigger reality is their losing record 83 games into the season and a 3½-game deficit to the first-place Brewers in the division.
Controllable young pitching? Sure. But these guys could use some help now. And they’re waiting for reinforcements with open arms.
“Yeah, absolutely,” said Kris Bryant, whose infield single to the shortstop hole drove in a run in the fifth. “That would be a good thing.”
A leadoff hitter? A catcher? A pitcher?
Last year, the Cubs made a hard push and spent big to land 100 mph closer Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees.
“That worked out,” Bryant said. “Anytime they make a trade, it seems to work out for us.”
After the All-Star break, the Cubs will play 11 of 16 games on the road, with just two weeks until the trade deadline.
“You can always use a boost. That’s always a positive in the clubhouse,” Lester said of embracing help before the deadline. “Obviously, you never want to see some of your own guys go the other way. But anytime that the front office believes, ‘Hey, this piece will help us get over the hump,’ that’s always a boost to the clubhouse.”
Lester also believes a reset at the break could make a difference. And he sees Kyle Hendricks, last year’s ERA champ, making a difference when he returns from the disabled list just after the break.
More difficult to put into words is what went wrong across the board since largely the same team won the World Series.
“You look around in that clubhouse and you can point in any different direction and say, really, we haven’t gotten hot,” Lester said. “We haven’t gotten going. We do two or three or four games in a row, and then it’s kind of like we go the other way for two or three or four games.
“I feel like it’s time to be paid up on that. It’s time to get some guys hot. It’s time to get some guys on the mound that just roll. We haven’t had that.”
Maybe it’ll come through a trade.
“Like I said last year when we were rolling: If we don’t make a move, we feel good about ourselves; if we make a move, we still feel good about ourselves,” Lester said.
“But to answer your question, yeah, there’s always room for improvement.”
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