By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — You can break down the numbers any way you wish, but it’s been both the misfirings of the Cubs’ starting rotation and the team’s lack of offensive production that have been the major reason for Chicago entering play Friday at 42-43.
Typically, manager Joe Maddon has a midseason message around the All-Star break. He moved this tradition up a few days and spoke at length with his Cubs on Thursday. For a manager who despises formal team meetings, this was notable, with Maddon emphasizing to his players that they’re in control of their fate moving foward.
“I wanted them to understand that the solutions are in the room,” Maddon said. “For me, I have always enjoyed within the group that winning creates chemistry. I really don’t believe that. I think chemistry can create winning. The room has been such a big part of that. The message was to continue to stay together as a group, and the answers will come out of the room itself.
“I told them it is really a good time to sharpen our focus. We are kind of in good shape right now. We maybe have not played up to our capabilities. We are a bunch of humans, and we have had two long years. Now it is time to really sharpen our focus. I think this could kind of catapult us in the second half.”
The Cubs are averaging 4.56 runs per game this season, down from 4.99 in their 2016 championship season, when they ranked third in MLB in runs scored. The loss of lead-off man Dexter Fowler and the ensuing inconsistent production from that spot has been part of Chicago’s offensive trouble, Maddon acknowledged.
Meanwhile, Chicago’s starting rotation has a 4.63 ERA, which is 16th in baseball. It led MLB last year with a 2.96 ERA.
So what needs to be done? President of baseball operations Theo Epstein threw down the gauntlet and made clear the answers to the struggles reside in the Cubs’ clubhouse currently.
“You can get in trouble when you feel you have to force something,” Epstein said Thursday. “So you can’t force anything. Sometimes the market dictates it. We spend just as much time talking about making improvements from within (as we do trade talk). Our coaches are hard at work making adjustments. Our players are hard at work trying to play up to their level, and they will.
“Again, that is where the improvements will come from. The talent rests inside our clubhouse, inside players who are wearing our uniforms right now. We will do what we can to look to augment that. There will not be a fundamental shift in the player personnel we have. We really like our club. We don’t like the way we have played to date.”
Epstein and Maddon both made it clear they believe the team still has the dynamic offensive potential to take off in the last 77 games of the season. The question is which players will be the driving force behind a potential run production surge.
“We trust him,” third baseman Kris Bryant said in reference to Epstein and his message to improve from within. “Last year we had the same core of guys, and we won the World Series. He put together a great team. If that is the way we are going to do it, we will do it that way.
“Almost all of us have been underachieving. We know what we can do. And if we do that, we will be right where we need to be.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.