Jersey boys: Cubs fake home clubhouse vibe, open long trip with a 12-5 rout of Reds
Trying to turn around the second-worst road record in the National League, the Cubs hung home jerseys at their lockers Thursday in Cincinnati.
CINCINNATI — Hell-bent on changing their road fortunes, the Cubs dispatched mental-skills coordinator Bob Tewksbury for the start of a 10-game trip Thursday.
Players also arrived at Great American Ball Park to find their pinstriped, home-white jerseys hanging at their lockers in the clubhouse.
Talk about mind games.
If not desperate measures.
“We’ve got to do something,” manager Joe Maddon said, adding he would have let the players wear the home jerseys if allowed.
“I like the fact that we’re taking it seriously in the sense that, we’re maybe poking fun at that a little bit, but it definitely brings to our attention, ‘Let’s go, boys.’ ’’
Tewskbury and a long list of usual suspects claimed ignorance as to the origins and/or perpetrator of the home-jersey gambit.
But it seemed to work well enough on one night in the Cubs’ 12-5 victory against the Reds that included two four-run innings, two home runs by newcomer Nick Castellanos, four more RBI by second-baseman-of-the-moment Ian Happ, 19 total hits and a multihit game by catcher Jonathan Lucroy in his Cubs debut.
“I’ve got to find out who’s behind this,” said Anthony Rizzo, who doubled home the first run of the game and reached base twice more on his 30th birthday. “Do we know who’s behind it yet?”
All anyone seems to know at this point is that they can expect to see the jerseys in their same locations Friday, when the Cubs continue their work on trying to win their first road series since the middle of May.
“No secret we’ve got to play better on the road,” Rizzo said. “So let’s try to pretend that we’re at home.”
The Cubs’ home-road win-loss splits are easily the most dramatic in the majors.
They have the second-best home record in the National League (41-19), including a just-concluded 5-1 homestand against the Brewers and Athletics, both in the thick of their leagues’ wild-card races.
“If we were even .500 now on the road, we’d be in wonderful position,” Maddon said. “It’s time to be at least .500 on the road.”
The Cubs opened the series with a 21-33 road record, second-worst in the NL. To Maddon’s point, a 27-27 mark instead would have meant a nine-game lead in the NL Central with 46 games to play.
Instead, they took a three-game lead into the road trip, climbing from one game out of first just before the homestand.
“We tend to get some momentum when we get back home and everyone starts to feel better about the team,” team president Theo Epstein said just before that homestand. “And maybe we get ahead of ourselves a little bit. We need to have a good homestand, but we need to keep our optimism in check until we can go out and prove it on the road. That’s where good teams make their mark.”
The Cubs were winless in 10 consecutive road series, having lost 22 of their last 31 on the road entering the series.
“I’ve never been involved with a good team having such a hard time on the road,” Maddon said.
That has included 12 one-run road losses and another two-run loss on a walk-off home run in Milwaukee, which could speak at least in part to some of the bullpen problems the Cubs have had this season.
But could they finally be ready to even out that huge road deficit?
Is it possible all the new players added since they started the last trip — Castellanos, Lucroy, Tony Kemp, Derek Holland, David Phelps — will help make that difference?
Rizzo doesn’t seem to have much patience for roster breakdowns, or pinstriped mind games, for that matter.
“Listen, if we end up this trip and we’re still [three] games up, it’s great,” he said. “The goal is to end up the last game of the season one game above the next team and be in first place.
“It doesn’t matter how you get it done. Every year is different. The path is different every year. If we lose out on the road and win out at home and we win by one game, it’s fine by me.”