When will Cubs get out of spin cycle?
The Cubs will reach the halfway point of their season after Monday's game at Boston.
Cubs president Theo Epstein came to Chicago from Boston in the fall of 2011, and he's seen each of his first three seasons with the Cubs follow a familiar pattern.
"We get out of the gate the first few weeks of the season and we have bullpen issues, closer problems," Epstein said Friday before the Cubs' 7-2 victory over the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field. "We lose a lot of close games. We don't hit with runners in scoring position. We get buried in the standings.
"We make a few adjustments, find our way right around June, play pretty good ball. Then by the time the (trading) deadline rolls around, it's kind of too late. We make some changes for the big picture for the betterment of the organization as a whole and then we make our way through August and September."
We appear to be in the calm before the trade winds blow up a storm of activity leading up to the July 31 nonwaiver trading deadline.
That could mean the Cubs will deal off pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Friday's starter, Jason Hammel, and try to limp through the rest of the season with some measure of respectability intact.
"You can talk about it all you want," said Hammel, who improved to 7-5 with a 2.98 ERA. "I knew what I was getting into coming here. It comes with the territory."
Epstein said trade speculation is "the usual chatter this time of year. There are talks, but probably not as much as you'd think sometimes by looking at all the websites."
Given the Cubs' current record of 34-44, trades are more likely than not.
"But we're not opposed to changing that script," Epstein said. "I said the other day, if we want to win 15 in a row, we'd definitely be open to it. Sometimes it's more important why you're playing well than if you're playing well.
"I'm really very glad that a couple 24-year-olds are playing at an all-star level, (Anthony) Rizzo and (Starlin) Castro. Those are guys that are going to be here until they're 30 and a couple of guys we're going to need to be veteran leaders when the next generation of good young players comes up."
Since May 17, the Cubs are 21-17. Castro and Rizzo are big parts of that team improvement as are a starting rotation that has been good all season and a bullpen that was revamped on the fly after a poor start to the season.
This is all happening under first-year manager Rick Renteria, whom Epstein praised.
"I think he's doing a nice job," Epstein said. "We were transparent about this with you guys. We really wanted him to create an environment where young players could be themselves, continue to grow, fight through their struggles and thrive. He and the coaching staff have really a nice job of creating that."
Renteria isn't ready to make a self-assessment.
"I'll reserve judgment on myself," he said. "I'll wait until it's all said and done. I'm very auto-critical of myself, to be honest. That's just the nature of the beast.
"Quite frankly, the easiest part of my day is when the game starts."
A losing season in 2014 seems a certainty. Just how many the Cubs lose will depend on how many pitchers they trade and how their replacements fare. The Cubs amassed a stockpile of young talent in trades for pitchers in 2012 and 2013.
Fans have begun to ask when the Cubs will be able to break this pattern for good.
"I'm not going to address how quickly we can contend," Epstein said. "There are so many variables, and it's a function of how well we continue to grow as an organization."