Futility on the road vs. NL West puts Cubs 1 loss away from 100
BY GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org September 29, 2012 11:12PM
Chicago Cubs v Arizona Diamondbacks
141 Consecutive games Darwin Barney went without committing an error at second base until the eighth inning Friday night, when his off-balance throw on an infield hit got past first, allowing a run to score. It tied Placido Polanco’s 2007 major-league single-season record for second basemen. ‘‘It was fun,’’ Barney said. ‘‘It had to end sometime; that’s just how the game works. … I’m definitely able to appreciate that. It was a big year for me defensively. That error doesn’t change that.’’ He was out of the lineup for the first time in nearly three weeks Saturday after the emotional aftermath of Friday’s eighth.
Updated: January 16, 2013 7:26PM
PHOENIX — A few days ago in Colorado, Rockies hitting coach Carney Lansford took a look at the Cubs’ and Rockies’ records and mused, ‘‘I never lost 100 games. I don’t think I want that on my résumé.’’
The guy he was talking to, Cubs first-base coach Dave McKay, just nodded.
‘‘I didn’t want to say, ‘I already know what that’s like,’ ’’ said McKay, who as a charter member of the expansion Blue Jays lost 100-plus games all three years (1977 to ’79) he played in Toronto.
The Cubs reached 99 losses Saturday night — third-most in franchise history behind only the 103-loss seasons of 1962 and ’66 —with four games left. And if No. 100 comes Sunday, it’ll make the Cubs the first team in big-league history to go winless on the road against an entire division (0-18 against the National League West).
Their 8-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks with five rookies in the starting lineup and two more joining the fray in the fifth was their 59th road loss, a franchise record by two with one left.
McKay knew he and the staff were taking on a rebuilding project when he took the job, but nobody could’ve known the Cubs would look this much like an expansion team by the time the first tear-it-down-to-build-it-up season under Theo Epstein was done.
‘‘You could say there’s some similarities there,’’ said McKay, who watched Blue Jays general manager Pat Gillick commit to a player-development process that included heavy use of the Rule 5 draft and some player development at the big-league level.
‘‘You had a lot of people learning how to play the game. You’d see some things that you don’t normally see.’’
Things like guys running into third outs at third base to erase would-be sacrifice flies — twice in two weeks. Things like a rookie rounding second on a double, then fiddling with his batting gloves six feet off the bag as he gets picked off before the ball’s back to the mound. Things like claiming a pitcher off waivers in August, watching him give up three consecutive mammoth home runs in a nine-run inning a week later, then designating him for assignment roughly about the time the last homer lands.
Things like a Rule 5 pitcher entering the game and walking the other guys’ pitcher with the bases loaded.
Blue Jays of 1977 or 2012 Cubs?
Clue: That last one happened Saturday night.
But the answer to that doesn’t matter as much as the answer to what comes next.
By the time the Blue Jays started producing pitchers Dave Stieb and Jimmy Key and outfielders Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby and George Bell, they were a perennial playoff contender in the 1980s and back-to-back champs in the early ’90s.
Tim Wilken, the recently promoted Cubs scouting executive who was in the Blue Jays’ scouting department back then, sees similarities with how the Cubs are going about their business under Epstein’s front office.
‘‘It’s comparable,’’ Wilken said. ‘‘Actually, there’s a lot more unknown here. We’ve already seen what happened there.’’
If you were at batting practice before Saturday’s game, you would’ve had a chance to see a lot of the guys the Cubs are counting on for their Barfield-Moseby-Bell moment. About 20 instructional-league prospects, including Jorge Soler and top draft pick Albert Almora watched the guys they want to one day replace.
How long until this pays off? Wilken wouldn’t give an estimate.
What he would say: ‘‘It had to be done.’’