The veterans are gone. The idea of a competitive season is long gone. And another wave of change is rumbling through the front office.
And still the Cubs had 46 games to play entering the day Friday, including four in a 46-hour-span against the first-place Reds.
Reason No. 1 might be that more than half of the remaining schedule includes games against playoff contenders.
“This time of year when you’re really not in a pennant race and not really looking forward to the postseason, when you do play the better teams, you do want to step it up,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “you do want to maybe be a spoiler.
“In the same tone, you’re just playing the game as hard as you possibly can. I’m just going by my nature: When I was out of the pennant races, I think those are the teams you really wanted to beat. Not that you have anything against the Cincinnati Reds or whoever’s in first place, but one motivating factor is knocking people out of the playoffs.”
For Friday’s starting pitcher, Travis Wood, getting another shot at the team that traded you to the Cubs isn’t a bad place to start for motivation.
Wood, who was acquired by the Cubs in the winter trade that sent Sean Marshall to the Reds, pitched seven strong innings against his former club just six days ago – allowing only one run on five hits and a walk, with eight strikeouts. He got no decision in a 4-2 loss.
“The other day he got the ball to 94 miles an hour a few times, which he’s not going to do too often,” Sveum said. “There’s no doubt, whenever you play one of your old teams, there’s an added adrenaline rush.”
Friday, Wood took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning, having allowed only an unearned run and two hits. He also drove in a run with a fourth-inning single.
It didn’t last long.
Three batters into the Ciincinnati fourth, the Reds had two home runs — a first-pitch shot by Ryan Ludwick leading off and a two-run shot by Todd Frazier — and a 4-3 lead, on the way to a 7-3 Reds win over Wood and the Cubs.
Sveum said Wood spent all his energy and emotion in that last start against the Reds — though Wood disputed that — and had little to show for his stuff Friday.
“He was basically out there in a gun fight with a knife tonight,” Sveum said.