After Friday’s 7-4 victory over the Pirates, the Cubs must win only six of their final 18 games to avoid becoming the third team in franchise history to lose 100.
And the architect of this team stresses that while it is important to avoid the embarrassment of that dubious distinction, fans have to understand the tough love that goes with it.
“No one wants to be associated with a 100-loss team, so it would be really nice to avoid,” President Theo Epstein said. “No one wants to be a part of that.”
At the same time he begs with fans — only 26,946 tickets were sold for Friday’s game at Wrigley Field, and far fewer actually made it through the turnstiles — to look for the silver lining behind this ominous black cloud hanging over the franchise.
“We’re trying to be transparent about (the pain of rebuilding),” Epstein said. “We have a plan and we have a vision, and it’s not going to happen overnight.
“We’re not trying to hide the ball. We’re being honest with (fans). … There might be another trading deadline in our future when we trade away 40 percent of a really good rotation.
“You do that because there’s going to be a day when you acquire two starting pitchers at the deadline to cement your club and go on a run in the postseason.”
Right now, thoughts of the postseason seem like a pipe dream, even though the Nationals suffered through back-to-back 100-loss seasons in 2008 and ’09, and they now own baseball’s best record.
As his team met the wild-card-contending Pirates, manager Dale Sveum talked about how “every game for them is a playoff game, and every game for us is kind of a playoff game in the players’ minds because they’re talking about staying away from 100 losses.”
And don’t think Sveum isn’t counting, saying afterward “we got the magic number (to avoid 100) down to six. That’s something. We have a lot of pride to stay away from that number.”
Epstein was asked if he noticed Chicago is a two-team city and the White Sox have been leading the American League Central.
“Obviously, I’ve noticed it,” he replied. “There’s a choice. You can say we’re going to Band-Aid this thing and try to polish it up the best we can and make it as presentable as possible to try to squeeze every last fan through the gates this year and we’ll deal with next year next year.
“Or we can say we want to make this thing right, no matter how tough the road is. We’re taking the second path, so it doesn’t matter how many teams are in the city, we’re going to take the path we feel is right.”
Epstein also is putting no pressure on Sveum to win with this rag-tag team.
“We told Dale in the (job) interview that based on where we are as a franchise, we’re going to try to win, but we’re not even going to evaluate him on wins and losses in the first couple of years,” Epstein said. “It wouldn’t be fair because we knew we would be putting out a team that had too much development talent to evaluate him strictly on wins and losses.”
And apparently Sveum will get good marks for keeping his players focused during what has proved to be a very trying season.
“For a team that’s where we are in the standings, it has been one of the best clubhouses I’ve been around,” Epstein said. “They show up to play every day, they like each other, they prepare, they work hard.
“With a few very rare exceptions, we have played very hard. … Usually when you’re losing on the field, it starts to seep into the clubhouse a little bit, and you see some things that shouldn’t happen.”