Cubs’ dreaming for 2014 already feels delusional
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist March 31, 2014 9:42PM
Updated: May 2, 2014 6:28AM
PITTSBURGH — Cubs manager Rick Renteria said his team will ‘‘reach for the stars’’ this season.
I’ve heard of ‘‘seeing stars.’’ That’s what happens when you get hit in the head by a fly ball. I’ve heard of ‘‘Reach for the sky!’’ That’s what a robber says when holding up someone at gunpoint and what the Cubs say when selling you a ticket.
But ‘‘the 2014 Cubs’’ and ‘‘reaching for the stars’’ in the same sentence? What could that mean?
‘‘For any team to ‘reach for the stars’ is to win the World Series,’’ Renteria said Monday. ‘‘And I don’t think that you can attain that unless you talk about it and you’re working through what you need to do in order to get there. I’m not afraid to talk about it. That’s what we want to do.’’
This guy is to positive thinking what a giraffe is to height. But his team isn’t good. I’m positive.
Reaching for the stars? How about reaching home plate? The Cubs lost their opener 1-0 in 10 innings Monday thanks to an inability to generate offense — that and a walk-off homer by the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Neil Walker.
It was only one game, but it had an ominous feel to it, as if there’s more where that came from. The Cubs had six hits, four of which came off the bat of leadoff hitter Emilio Bonifacio. Anthony Rizzo went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. As a team, the Cubs struck out 11 times.
‘‘I thought we had some good at-bats,’’ Renteria said afterward.
What’s the line between being optimistic and looking like a rah-rah with a weak grip on reality? I have the feeling the Cubs’ new manager is going to be stomping on it all season long.
As of Monday morning, everybody seemed to be aboard the Happy Express.
‘‘We’ve got, like, everything to be a winning team,’’ said shortstop Starlin Castro, who went 0-for-3. ‘‘We’ve got good pitching. We’ve got guys with power, guys who can run. What you need to be a winning team, we’ve got it. If we can be together and help each other, we’ll be all right.’’
Castro doesn’t have much familiarity with what a Cubs winner looks like. He was called up in early 2010, their ‘‘best’’ season in the last four years, when they went 75-87.
‘‘I think we’ll win more games and maybe surprise the other people who don’t believe in us,’’ Castro said.
It’s not just Renteria and Castro spreading cheer.
‘‘I think we have a team right now that can go to the playoffs,’’ team chairman Tom Ricketts said in February.
Look, I don’t want to burst the Cubs’ bubble. I don’t think there’s a bubble to burst. They’re saying the things they think they’re supposed to be saying. But then you see the product they rolled out onto the PNC Park field, and you know the folly of what they’re selling.
Starter Jeff Samardzija was more than good enough to win Monday, giving up five hits over seven innings. But if the Cubs are going to hit like this for him, he’ll probably want to get traded by the end of the week. They didn’t look any better than the team that lost 96 games last season.
How does a ballclub stay positive when all the evidence suggests another dreadful season ahead? It’s a fair question, devoid of subjectivity. The Cubs will not be good. Now, how do they handle that?
‘‘I think our goal is to go out and surprise some people,’’ president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. ‘‘I don’t think expectations are that high externally. And we have a tough schedule early, so we can certainly turn the narrative on its head by going out and having a good first month of the season. So that’s the goal starting [Monday].’’
As it turned out, the narrative had nothing to fear in the opener. In the fifth inning, Samardzija bunted into a 1-5-4 double play, which is hard to do. Renteria challenged the call at first base and lost on the video review. That’s how it went.
In the eighth, Bonifacio got nailed in a rundown between third and home. Then Rizzo popped out to third to end the inning. That’s how it went, too.
Renteria was undeterred after the game, saying both teams ‘‘played to the end.’’ That certainly was true.
‘‘Ricky is who he is,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘He’s very positive, very enthusiastic.’’
Let’s see what he looks like in August.