Not so fast: Check back on Cubs’ urgency in August because it’s a long season

SHARE Not so fast: Check back on Cubs’ urgency in August because it’s a long season

Four games into the season, manager Joe Maddon and the Cubs already have their first three-game losing streak. They didn’t lose three in a row last year until May.

ATLANTA — Four games into team president Theo Epstein’s year of ‘‘reckoning’’ for the Cubs, it’s already time for a reality check.

Talk about urgency.

In fact, talking about urgency probably should be the first reality check.

Epstein said as the season began that ‘‘October starts in March,’’ which makes a nice T-shirt slogan but has little constructive value when it comes to winning a six-month, game-a-day baseball season.

It’s certainly not how this one has worked so far.

Already during the Cubs’ 1-3 start, reliever Carl Edwards Jr. said he was glad his tough debut happened Saturday and not ‘‘down the road in a playoff race.’’ Starter Cole Hamels said he’d have a different take on a series such as the one in Texas ‘‘if you ask me in the middle of summer or end of September.’’

Yu Darvish discounted his first-start struggles as ‘‘only one start.’’ Infielder David Bote, who made one of six errors in an ugly loss Monday to the Braves, said: ‘‘We’ve got 158 to go. We’ll be all right.’’ Pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said he wasn’t going to get too high or too low about his bullpen’s performance so far, even though that was the Cubs’ biggest question mark going into the season.

Not one ode to urgency from any of them. And they’re right.

Maybe the Cubs, who have averaged 97 victories the last four seasons, will be at or near the top of the National League Central again — as they have every year during that stretch. Or maybe this is the year a deeper NL keeps them out of the playoffs.

But urgency in March or April won’t be the difference. Whether the Cubs did enough to improve their roster during the winter might, along with health and the performance arcs of both aging veterans and younger players expected to improve.

It’s easy to suggest the Cubs’ fortunes last October were altered dramatically because they failed to win one more game, but surely they would take 95 victories again this season, right?

‘‘Yes,’’ manager Joe Maddon said last month.

They won 92 in 2017 and won the division by six games.


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Epstein spent his strongest language on urgency the day after the Cubs were eliminated in the wild-card game last October, when emotions ran highest and spirits ran lowest.

The language softened with nuanced context throughout a challenging winter as the front office had more needs to fill than dollars to fill them.

And that’s really the point of all the organizational introspection since the bitter ending to last season: Ownership didn’t extend the payroll enough for the front office to add as much to the bullpen as it might have, much less an impact hitter.

So what to make of the first few days?

• The Cubs looked as bad in the field Monday as they have since their inglorious seasons of tanking.

Reality check: This has been one of the best-fielding teams in baseball the last three seasons, and the same players haven’t suddenly turned into a bunch of Adam Dunns. Unless they’re already pressing as part of this urgency thing, it’s probably the ‘‘anomaly’’ Maddon says it is.

• The Cubs rank at or near the bottom of the majors in most pitching categories, and the numbers are even worse for the bullpen.

Reality check: The staff isn’t that bad, but whether the bullpen is good enough to win a division, much less a playoff series, is anything but certain and might be the most compelling storyline of the season (along with the Darvish watch).

• The Cubs’ hitters lead the majors in batting average and on-base percentage and rank third in OPS.

Reality check: They faced crappy Rangers pitching in a hitter’s ballpark using a designated hitter in  the first three games, and the Braves’ Sean Newcomb wasn’t good Monday. They might be good, but they’re not this good.

• Urgency?

Reality check: The Astros, Red Sox, Cardinals and Braves all have losing records. The Mariners are 7-1 for the first time. Check back in August.

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