One year ago, the Cubs headed off the cliff.
The trades of starting pitchers Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm, along with a season-ending elbow injury to Matt Garza sealed their fate. They went on to lose 101 games while trotting a makeshift pitching staff every day.
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These days the Cubs aren't looking down, or back. In fact, the feeling around the club is that things are definitely looking up.
The Cubs returned home from a 6-4 road trip Monday night and fell 5-0 to the Milwaukee Brewers, who broke a scoreless tie in the ninth inning against Cubs reliever Pedro Strop. Starter Jeff Samardzija went 7 shutout innings for the Cubs, giving up 3 hits.
Just as they did last year, the Cubs have traded away veteran players for prospects. Unlike last year, though, talk has turned to the Cubs reaching the .500 mark instead of the century mark in losses.
"It's a number," said manager Dale Sveum of .500. "We're trying to get the whole organization and everything very healthy. It's a number that coming from where we were to now we see a little light at the end of the tunnel. To possibly get there in the next two months is something to shoot for.
"It's a goal you want to have, but it's not a goal you want to have in this organization. Those kinds of things hold things back too, 'As long as we get to .500.'
"You're still going home like everybody else that's not in the playoffs."
The Cubs feel they're better equipped to withstand the personnel losses this year. Although they have traded starters Matt Garza and Scott Feldman, the remaining veterans have pitched well. The Cubs have added pitchers Jake Arrieta and Justin Grimm. Both are at the Class AAA level, but each has major-league experience, and Arrieta will start Tuesday night's second game of a doubleheader.
Left-hander Chris Rusin has filled Garza's spot, and the Cubs have won both games he has started.
"The depth is everything," Sveum said. "We went into this season and during the winter, and Jed and Theo (GM Hoyer and president Epstein) and everyone said if this was to happen again, what happened last year, we're going to be more prepared for it and have a lot more depth in the system."
That all has led to a better feeling around the team. It helps that the Cubs entered Monday with a record of 30-25 in their previous 55 games.
"You don't have to be a player or a coach to understand that winning helps all that," Sveum. "We've had, for three months now, a winning record. That's what you want to keep doing and grinding and winning close ballgames, and hopefully we separate ourselves in some other ballgames to get the bullpen some days off because they are getting a little taxed playing 1-run games every night.
"The good thing is we've been on the winning end of those. You definitely sense a lot more energy in the dugout and the clubhouse."
Samardzija said he feels a different vibe.
"I think it's a little bit of a different team," he said. "I think we have a little bit younger of a team. We have a lot of big-league-ready guys on our team.
"Last year we kind of pieced it together just to put a team out there. This year we still have a lot of guys that are competing for a lot and have a lot on the line, which is exciting. You see how we play every day because of that."