Theo Epstein said Saturday that the organization is in a collective slump.
Epstein in a slump? Here’s wondering what that would even look like. One bad algorithm after another?
“Yeah, I think front offices go on hot streaks, too, and they can go in slumps,” he said Saturday before the Cubs beat the White Sox 6-3 at Guaranteed Rate Field for their second straight win. “Sometimes you go in those sort of stretches where it’s just like the team on the field, you go through a Murphy’s Law period where everything that seemingly can go wrong goes wrong and you lose a few games. Same thing with front offices.”
Saturday’s victory put the Cubs (47-42) back into first place in the National League Central, one-half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Epstein went on the team’s flagship radio station last week and threatened to make changes if things didn’t turn around. The Cubs went 1-2 at Cincinnati and 1-3 at Pittsburgh before resuming their “road trip” on the South Side following a rare off-day Friday.
Naturally, when a team president or general manager talks of changes, the first thing that comes to many minds is that the manager may be fired.
It’s a valid thought concerning the Cubs because their manager, Joe Maddon, is in the final season of his five-year contract without an extension in sight.
So how does Epstein parcel out accountability – to himself and general manager Jed Hoyer for the players they’ve provided Maddon, to Maddon for how he uses those players and to the players for their execution or lack thereof?
“Broad strokes first,” Epstein said. “We’re all in this together. That’s sort of one of the hallmarks of this organization. We have each other’s backs, and we’re in it together.
“Anyone who’s there to take the credit when things are going great should be there as a leader to take responsibility when we’re in any of our downturns. One of the things I like about this organization is that’s the case. You don’t see people running way from responsibility.
“Ultimately everything in baseball operations is my responsibility. If we’re not getting the results we should be getting, it begins and ends with me. It’s my job. This is a group of players that we’ve selected, I selected, Joe, the coaching staff. I get the say on what happens in baseball operations. So if we’re underperforming, that’s absolutely on me.”
On Maddon, Epstein had words of praise.
“Joe’s been remarkably effective and remarkably consistent,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and say this is on him. I look at it collectively. I think my job is to put him in a position to succeed. His job is to put the players in a position to succeed. When we’re not succeeding, you can’t point at any one thing.
“We’re collectively not getting the job done right now. If you want to look at it and say, going back to the second half last year and now the first half this year hasn’t been as clean as we’d like, as heads-up as we’d like, maybe not as intense as we’d like with our style of play.
“Joe’s got a natural curiosity that way. He’s got a growth mindset. He may give off this air of consistency in some ways, but in other ways he’s trying new things every day to try to fix things and get it locked in.”
Epstein said the “sloppiness” of the Cubs’ play at times has surprised him. Addison Russell made a bad throwing error on what looked to be a routine grounder in Saturday’s second inning, but Jon Lester pitched around it. Russell’s miscue was one of 3 Cubs errors. Lester (8-6) wound up working 61/3 innings, giving up 6 hits and 3 runs (1 earned).
Epstein said he believes a turnaround is coming.
“I believe in this group,” he said. “I believe in this organization, more importantly. I think good times are ahead. You have to withstand the down stretches. I’ve been in baseball 28 years. There are cycles that come and go, whereas an organization or as an individual, you’re going to look really good, like you’ve got the game figured out. That’s never the case. You never do.”