The Cubs could be in for a second half they haven’t experienced since the Theo Epstein-led rebuild. The last half of the season could feel like an even longer slog if there are more games like Saturday’s 6-0 loss to the Cardinals.
And catcher Willson Contreras wasn’t happy.
“I feel like everybody was off,” Contreras said. “Everybody was distracted, I don’t know why. Probably because the All-Star break is really close. Tomorrow is the last game of the first half. I don’t think that way, but I didn’t think we were on today.”
It was the latest rough night in a series of many for the Cubs, and the downturn has changed the trajectory of the season and perhaps the franchise, putting president Jed Hoyer and the team at a crossroads with long-lasting ramifications.
Instead of looking for a piece or two that could put them over the top, the Cubs might be selling before the July 30 trade deadline. Big names with expiring contracts could be dealt for prospects, confirming the Cubs’ change in direction after their 11-game losing streak.
And the recent stretch has been “really hard” on Contreras, who has experienced nothing but winning teams since coming up in 2016. The 2019 season was the only one in which the Cubs missed the playoffs.
“It’s really hard, especially when you want to win, you want to fight for anything that is in your control, but also I have to understand that this is a team effort,” Contreras said. “I cannot take control with my hands. I have to let a lot of things go.
“We’re having a tough stretch right now. I think we have to turn it around, but it’s a team effort. It’s not individual effort.”
If the Cubs decide to get rid of their biggest pieces, the rest of 2021 could be very challenging. A team without Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and other hitters would struggle. As would a group that sees its bullpen lose key pieces such as All-Star Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Chafin and Ryan Tepera.
But a grueling second half wouldn’t change Contreras.
“I’m just going to keep doing my job; the way I play is not going to change,” he said. “That’s on everybody’s work ethic. We have to win as a team. Also, I cannot ask everybody to play like I do or to play like Baez and I play. Everybody’s different. I know that they might be tired, but I’m here to win. I’m here to compete. That is what I like to have from everybody else.”
Contreras, however, won’t be confronting his teammates.
“There’s a lot going on,” Contreras said. “There’s a lot of things that I would like to say, but I [would] rather keep it to myself than say it. That’s it.”
What’s going on is a team that’s losing and could be broken up.
By the end of the month, the Cubs could look different. A core that won a fabled championship but never returned to the promised land could be scattered about the league as contenders pick away at the Cubs.
Whatever the terminology, the next few weeks might bring painful changes.
“I know maybe the word ‘rebuild’ has been thrown out there,” manager David Ross said before the game, “but that’s not the impression that I think anybody’s under around here.”
Rebuild or reset, the second half could be very tough to stomach. Things will be even more difficult if there are more nights like Saturday.