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updated: 8/24/2014 7:29 PM

Miles: Much different Cubs vibe in Epstein's 3rd year

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  • Anthony Rizzo celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after the Cubs defeated the first-place Baltimore Orioles 2-1 on Sunday to complete the weekend sweep.

      Anthony Rizzo celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after the Cubs defeated the first-place Baltimore Orioles 2-1 on Sunday to complete the weekend sweep.
    Associated Press

 
 

We're well into Year 3 of the Theo Epstein experience with the Cubs.

Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel to which Epstein referred isn't an oncoming freight train after all.

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Having covered all three of these sometimes painful rebuilding years, I can tell you this one has a different look and feel from the previous two.

The main reason is that there are more players on this team who are part of the future than in the previous two seasons.

Javier Baez has come up to join Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. That happened after Arismendy Alcantara arrived and made an immediate impact.

But one of the biggest changes has come in the bullpen, where young relievers Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon are making a positive difference.

The trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland on the Fourth of July represented a watershed moment in recent Cubs history. Yes, it was another midseason sell-off. But it may have been the last time the Cubs have to do that.

It also seemed to signal another second half of losing, and, indeed, the Cubs went 0-6 right after the trade, but the expected free fall hasn't happened. It seems the post-trade hangover was short-lived.

Let's face it, the last couple of years Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were trying to piece teams together, accumulate high draft picks and hope the kids down on the farm would develop as quickly as possible.

It's painful to look back at the rosters from 2012 and 2013, but it's also instructive as to what's going on now. The contrast between those rosters and today's is stark.

Do you remember Miguel Socolovich, Justin Germano, Jason Berken, Alex Hinshaw, Adrian Cardenas, Alex Burnett, Kameron Loe, Julio Borbon and J.C. Boscan?

No disrespect to any of those players. They're all professionals. But most were roster fillers who had absolutely no role in the Cubs' future.

Yes, the Cubs are losing more than they're winning this season. As recently as June 3, they were on pace to lose 100 games. But after Sunday's 2-1 victory and series sweep over the Baltimore Orioles, they're 17-13 over their last 30 games.

The infusion of youth, and quality youth, has helped fuel a more positive feeling in the Cubs' clubhouse this late in the season, a time when the dog days of August can really hound a team.

"There is some energy, obviously," manager Rick Renteria said. "I'm hopeful the energy that they have and the guys that have been here that it's coming together, they're jelling. It doesn't hurt you when you're playing good baseball.

"Your spirits are uplifted when you have some of the young men coming through in big situations with some timely hits or some really nice defensive plays. It doesn't hurt you, and it doesn't hurt the atmosphere. It doesn't hurt the mood of the club. I think it just breeds confidence in each other."

This is Renteria's first year as a big-league manager. In fairness to previous skipper Dale Sveum, the clubhouse never got out of hand amid the losing the last couple of years.

Epstein admitted as much even as he was firing Sveum. The veteran talent wasn't there, and the good young kids weren't ready.

Renteria passed the credit down.

"You've got to give the players credit because they're the ones who have maintained a particular type of attitude," he said. "Everybody does things differently. I don't think our mood has changed from Day One of spring training.

"I think we all understand that the major-league baseball game is a tough game. It's hard to win major-league ballgames. It's not an easy game to play. We all understand that. I hope that all the guys here have been encouraging and motivating and getting on guys when they have to in the right way.

"We just allow these guys to play and be themselves and hopefully that's something that will continue."

bmiles@dailyherald.com

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