Heading into a big series in Milwaukee last week — the wheels not yet off for the Cubs — manager David Ross said he wasn’t paying much attention to the team’s record. But he did admit it was time to start eyeballing the standings on a daily basis.
Not anymore, though. Not 10 games into a hideous, likely season-defining losing streak — extended by a 13-3 loss Monday night against the Phillies to open a seven-game homestand — that will drag the lifeless Cubs into the All-Star break. Not at a whopping 8½ games behind the first-place Brewers in the National League Central.
Not with infielder Eric Sogard having to pitch so often — three times in this miserable 10-game stretch alone — that it should be embarrassing to all involved.
The record? It’s 42-43, folks.
The standings? Forget it. They’re too unpleasant to look at.
“Yeah, I’ve stopped,” Ross said before the game with a bit of comedic timing that drew laughs from reporters in the dugout and even from Ross himself. “I mean, it’s not funny.”
Nothing is funny for the Cubs right now, unless you count the notion that there’s still plenty of time for them to right the ship, be buyers heading toward the July 30 trade deadline and make a successful run at the playoffs.
The frustration showed when Ross came out of the dugout in the sixth inning of a 2-2 game to argue a ball-four call by umpire Nic Lentz on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Rex Brothers to Phillies leadoff hitter Bryce Harper. Noted peacemaker Joe West eventually completed the long walk over from his post at first base, intervened in the kerfuffle and — not without resistance — waltzed Ross back to the dugout. Alas, it didn’t spare Ross from his third ejection of the season and the fourth of his managerial career.
Andrew McCutchen brought Harper around from first with a double, and the rout — oh, what a rout — was on.
For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi isn’t exactly having a stellar time with the Phillies. He entered this series with a 67-74 record since taking that job — not having gotten the Cubs one in 2019 — and that’s no fun for a man who had 10 winning seasons in 10 tries with the Yankees.
But Ross is mired in something worse — and it’s more than an extended losing jag.
“Definitely didn’t see this coming, for sure,” he said. “Yeah, this is kind of out of nowhere with this group.”
The tension only thickens as the fate of the Cubs’ core hangs in the balance. As the start of the season neared, Ross — along with his boss, team president Jed Hoyer — stated often that he trusted veterans such as Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo to keep their eyes on the team prize despite inevitable thoughts about their impending free agency and outside speculation about potential in-season trades.
Needless to say, those trades would mark the end of an era that included a World Series title in 2016.
A little more than halfway through a season that has had its ups and currently is in a deep, dark down, has Ross seen signs of a losing stretch taking its toll on the Cubs’ mental strength?
“I haven’t,” he said. “I really believe that.”
Does he, though? Ross himself says some players are trying too hard, looking for home runs instead of more authentic, sustainable rallies. The pressure doesn’t stop closing in on this team.
Cubs starter Zach Davies pumped his first after escaping a jam to finish the fifth. Maybe Davies, who has allowed two or fewer runs in five of his last six starts, should have known better.
Instead, the struggling Phillies (40-42) kicked sand in the Cubs’ faces, scoring six runs in the eighth — five unearned after an error by Sogard — and three more on two homers off Sogard in the ninth.
Embarrassing. Sad. Cold, hard reality.