Take a good look around.
With the exception of a couple of pitchers coming back from the disabled list just after the All-Star break, this might be as good as it gets for the Cubs.
These faces, these players, this group that was good enough to win a World Series a year ago only to sputter to a losing record with one series to play before the break.
“Look, if we can improve the club through trade, we will, but our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse,” team president Theo Epstein said Thursday as the Cubs recalled postseason hero Kyle Schwarber from the minors, re-installed him in the middle of the lineup, then lost to the first-place Brewers 11-2 to drop a season-worst 4½ games back.
The Cubs have been linked to every big-name, controllable starting pitcher on the market, from Sonny Gray to Justin Verlander. But having the wherewithal and the desire to compete against more aggressive teams with deep farm systems and .600 winning percentages is another matter.
“This is largely the same club that averaged 100 wins a year over the last two years,” Epstein said. “There’s not a player we realistically can bring in from the outside that’s going to spur us to play at that level. We’re going to get to a point of playing at that level because of the guys who are here.
“Of course, we’re going to work hard and do what we can to improve the team. It may happen; it may not happen. But the biggest fixes rest in the talented players that we have.”
Those players continue to say they’re confident they’ll make those fixes.
“Always,” said Jon Jay, the outfielder who hit a huge pinch homer in the victory Wednesday but by the ninth inning Thursday was pitching in a laugher, summing up the Cubs’ season in barely 24 hours.
A week after shaking things up by jettisoning veteran catcher Miguel Montero over comments critical of teammate Jake Arrieta, Epstein said the club might try to trade for a catcher.
“If the right veteran guy is out there, sure,” he said before pledging faith in the skills and poise of backup Victor Caratini, who debuted last week — 12 months after starter Willson Contreras debuted.
The Cubs have pursued starting pitching heavily in winter and summer trade markets for two years. Last July, they landed Mike Montgomery, who pitched well before his worst start as a Cub on Thursday.
With Arrieta and John Lackey on the way out as free agents after this season, the Cubs’ ideal this month would be to land at least one reliable starter for 2018 and avoid going into the winter needing two arms. That’s far more important than an urgent push for help this season.
“If it’s there, that’d be great,” Epstein said. “If it’s not, we’re not going to force anything and make a bad deal.
“You always look at the trade deadline as an opportunity to get a jump start on the offseason, as with Montgomery last year.”
The Cubs almost certainly will do something by the deadline July 31.
“It’s early. I think there’s going to be lots of opportunities,” Epstein said.
Players such as Jon Lester and Kris Bryant already have publicly embraced the idea of the “boost” a move would give the clubhouse.
But don’t expect a blockbuster.
“You can get yourself in trouble when you tell yourself you have to force something,” Epstein said.
“We spend just as much time talking about how we can make improvements from within, to put guys maybe in a little bit different position. But there’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel we have. We really like our club. We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.”
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