In the late innings of the Cubs’ series finale Thursday against the Padres, a stadium camera focussed on a group of fans holding a homemade banner that read: “We need a win to fly our new W flag.”
That flag will remain pristine at least a little longer.
The Cubs’ 6-4 loss to the Padres extended their losing streak to 10 games. It’s their third double-digit skid in the span of a year.
“Frustrating, obviously,” Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said of the losing streak. “I feel like through [last] Friday’s game we battled incredibly well.”
Since then, however, most of the Cubs’ losses have been blowouts.According to team historian Ed Hartig, via mlb.com, the Cubs’ -49 run differential against the Yankees and Padres this week set a franchise low for back-to-back series.
“Even if we’re losing,” catcher Willson Contreras said, “I think the only thing that cannot change is the attitude and the way we play the game.”
Said veteran reliever David Robertson: “It’s not for lack of effort, everyone’s going out there and trying really hard. We just haven’t been able to put together a good game. We’re not firing on all cylinders, and we’re going to have to do that to win a game.”
Part of this dismal spell can be chalked up to injuries, especially to a severely shorthandedrotation, even if Hoyer won’t bring that up himself.
“Injuries can never be an excuse,” he said. “Everyone deals with them. And so I think it’s sort of a loser’s mentality. To me, it’s like complaining about umpires. That doesn’t really do you any good. That said, I do think that the stabilizing effect of those starting pitchers is real.”
A lot of the rest comes down to the Cubs’ roster-construction approach and where the club is in its rebuilding process.
In the Cubs’ last rebuild, Hoyer and his predecessor Theo Epstein delivered on their promise of a championship in exchange for a few 60- to 75-win seasons.
“You can’t pretend that those first three years weren’t really difficult emotionally, you know?” Hoyer said. “And so sometimes when something ends up being a real positive, you kind of sugarcoat what the experience was like [to get there]. So, I’ve had a lot of those thoughts, trying to remember back to how I actually felt at that point.”
Considering Hoyer’s track record, when he says, “I have all the confidence in the world that we’re going to get there,” it’s nothing to scoff at. But how many losing seasons will it take this time? This year’s team doesn’t seem to be built with a 2022 championship in mind, through no fault of the players.
After the 19-5 blowout loss Wednesday, manager David Ross highlighted left fielder Ian Happ’s ninth-inning catch. The Cubs were trailing by double digits. First baseman Frank Schwindel was on the mound.
“It [would have been] easy in that kind of game to just jog,” Ross said, “and he’s almost running into that wall trying to catch a ball. . . . That says a lot about the character that he has and the character of this group. They continue to chase balls down when it would be easy to let them drop.”
The Cubs’ three double-digit losing streaks in the last year have come at different phases in the club’s team-building cycle. The first 11-game skid last year, spanning late June and early July, solidified the Cubs as trade-deadline sellers, as they plunged out of first place in the National League Central.
The next skid made last season historic, the first time in franchise history that the Cubs had recorded two losing streaks of 11-plus games. They had just been through a major upheaval, most of the championship core replaced with players fighting to stick in the big-leagues, several of whom have made a big impact.
The Cubs added key pieces this offseason, including starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley, right fielder Seiya Suzuki and plenty of veteran relievers. But Suzuki, Stroman, Miley — and lefty starter Drew Smyly — are all on the injured list.
That makes this losing streak feel different for Ross. It’s not an excuse, it’s a grim reality for the Cubs’ rotation.
“I try to forget about the ones that we’ve had and try to turn the page as fast as possible,” Ross said. “So, I don’t try to find similarities, but this one just feels a little like we don’t have that guy coming back around to stop things.”