Cubs’ skid hits 11 after walk-off hit by pitch
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org May 26, 2012 11:22PM
With the bases loaded, Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis hit Matt Hague with a pitch that forced in the winning run in the ninth. | Gene J. Puskar~AP
The Cubs’ 11-game losing streak is tied for the seventh-longest in franchise history and three shy of the 1997 team record:
14 April 1-20, 1997
13 June 12-25, 1987
13 May 30-June 13, 1982
13 April 19-May 10, 1944
12 April 12-26, 1981
12 June 21-30, 1970
11 May 15-26, 2012
11 Aug. 4-16, 1973
11 June 18-29, 1954
11 Sept. 3-18, 1943
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:28AM
PITTSBURGH — As long as George Steinbrenner owned the New York Yankees, every freshly drafted teenager was held to the same win-every-day expectation that Steinbrenner demanded from his $20 million big-leaguers.
Player development was one thing. Winning was everything. And those who survived say those concepts are the same thing.
‘‘The culture, they teach you how to win,’’ said Cubs left fielder Alfonso Soriano, who has a World Series ring from his rookie year as a Yankee.
‘‘Your mentality is all about winning. Because it’s not like you start thinking about winning when you get to the big leagues.’’
The Cubs, of course, are trying — again — to get there under yet another new management team. And fans and players seem to have faith in the Theo Epstein-Jed Hoyer front office and the field staff they’ve assembled.
But at what point does too much losing adversely affect some of the culture change they’re trying to create for younger players coming up?
‘‘It depends on the mentality of the young player,’’ said Soriano, whose fifth homer wasn’t enough to keep the Cubs from losing their 11th consecutive game Saturday — this time 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Pirates — when Rafael Dolis hit Matt Hague with a pitch with two outs and the bases loaded in the ninth.
This game featured eight walks and two hit batters by Cubs pitchers and two Cubs thrown out at the plate.
‘‘If they’re strong enough to get out of this, they can learn from it,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘You can learn from losing — how bad it is — to perform better, to try to make the team better, to try to win.’’
For now, the Cubs are chasing all the wrong franchise ghosts with a losing pace that threatens the team record for futility. In fact, all five full-season teams in the farm system have losing records.
And if the number of quality prospects in the organization is as low as the new regime seems to believe, it could be a long process getting the winning formula right, not to mention the culture.
‘‘Winning is very important to any kind of development, you’re winning championships in the minors as guys coming up through the organization or even at the big-league level,’’ manager Dale Sveum said. ‘‘It’s very important to see.
‘‘On the other hand, sometimes the adversity you have to go through to understand what it takes to win a major-league game, that’s development, too. Sometimes failure is part of developing, too, to understand why the failure happens.’’
History is full of examples of teams that have lost with young players who became core pieces on perennial playoff teams — most recently with the Tampa Bay Rays, who had an 11-game losing streak the year before they went to the World Series.
‘‘Those guys, those young players, they worked hard to get better to win,’’ Soriano said. ‘‘They didn’t think about, ‘Oh, we’re losing, so I’m [OK] with losing every year when I play.’ They changed the mentality, and the mentality changed the organization, too.
‘‘If your mentality is like fire and trying to get better, you tend to [have success]. But if you’re a loser — if your mind is like a loser’s mind — you’re going to be a loser.’’
One of the Cubs’ key young players, Starlin Castro, has spent only three days of his big-league career with a winning record. But when he struck out with runners at the corners to end the top half of the seventh, he clenched in anger, then bounced his helmet off the dirt.
‘‘It’s kind of hard when the team [is going] like that,’’ said Castro, 22, who admits to putting extra responsibility on himself to help win games.
‘‘We’re going to be good one day,’’ he said. ‘‘Everybody works hard. And the team is going to be good. Soon. … I’ll be there.’’