Updated: April 23, 2013 12:23AM
CINCINNATI — Manager Dale Sveum raised the tone and the stakes. Then the players raised the level of play Monday night.
But the results stayed the same in this miserable April for the Cubs, who took a lead into the bottom of the 13th inning, only to lose 5-4 to the Cincinnati Reds on a three-run rally capped by former Cub Cesar Izturis’ two-out, walk-off, RBI single against Michael Bowden.
“I’m proud of the way they played,” said Sveum, whose team took a 4-2 lead on Luis Valbuena’s two-run homer in the 13th. “There’s a lot of good things that happened. … It’s just frustrating for those guys.”
Barely three weeks into the season, the last-place Cubs are six games behind the division-leading Reds and riding a seven-game road skid, mostly because of sloppy play in the field and shaky late-inning pitching. They reversed the trend for one night in their first errorless game since Thursday, but to no avail.
“It’s gnawing on me a little more than last year,” Sveum said before the game, “because even though we lost last year, we didn’t really play this bad of baseball.”
That included 17 errors in 17 games before Monday, the fewest walks of any team in the National League and a .147 average with men in scoring position after going 1-for-7 Monday.
By the time the Cubs got to Cincinnati on the heels of Sveum declaring Sunday that players’ jobs were on the line — including those of core guys Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo — the manager said the early results had him thinking about his own job security.
“I’d be lying if I said you didn’t think about yourself with some of this stuff, too,” Sveum said before the game. “But that’s something you don’t have control over. I’ve got control over my job and my coaching staff to prepare everybody every day, from spring training, this and that. That’s all I can do.”
In fact, the Cubs seem to have the most important part of the game solved: starting pitching.
Despite playing without their best pitcher, Matt Garza (lat strain), the rotation ranks third in the NL with a 3.11 ERA after left-hander Travis Wood dominated for much of a 61/3-inning start, taking a two-hitter into the seventh.
“We’re all in this together,” Sveum said, “myself, the coaching staff. It’s not just the players.”
To be clear, Sveum’s job is in no danger.
The front office, which brought Sveum in at the start of a major teardown, consistently has backed the manager to the point of taking responsibility for last year’s 101-loss season. Nothing has changed three weeks into the second season, and Sveum said he has received nothing but support from team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
“No doubt,” he said.
Sveum stood by the point he made Sunday: No player’s job is safe if he doesn’t perform, regardless of talent, reputation or alleged “core player” status, including All-Star shortstop Castro and hand-picked building-block first baseman Rizzo.
“They’re not the only ones,” he said. “Nobody’s exempt. It was just pointing them out. That doesn’t’ mean they’re [getting demoted]. …
“I’m not pointing fingers at them. Nobody’s exempt. I’m [not] exempt to being fired. [Neither] is the coaching staff. We’re all in this together on this team. We’re all [accountable] for this.”