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Cubs’ task gets tougher on road trip against Cardinals, Yankees

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Updated: April 10, 2014 10:20PM



The current events and celebrity faces around Wrigley Field have changed.

Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo hung out in the owner’s seats Thursday. Ryan Dempster watched from the bleachers.

One of the Cubs’ owners, Pete Ricketts, is hanging out with Sarah Palin while he runs for governor of Nebraska. And the Cubs’ answer to a faceless, do-nothing offseason is a pants-less, do-nothing mascot.

But don’t be fooled. Nothing has changed with this team since last year except a handful of names on the jerseys.

Nothing’s different when it comes to the lack of scoring, the blown leads and the generally outmanned look of a place-holder club trying to compete against teams that actually have MVPs, home-run champs and playoff aspirations.

If this season-opening 3-6 run against Pennsylvania’s finest wasn’t convincing enough, the Cubs hit the road for three against the division-favorite St. Louis Cardinals and two against the $209 million New York Yankees.

“Every road trip is tough. There’s no easy game in the big leagues,” eternal optimist/manager Rick Renteria said. “Every major-league baseball game is tough to win.”

Certainly from where he sits.

When the Cubs blew a four-run lead in the span of seven batters in the seventh inning to lose 5-4 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, it sent them to their eighth consecutive lost series, dating to Sept. 9-11, 2013.

They haven’t won a home series since the last one that started in August last year.

One of their hottest hitters, Starlin Castro, says that despite the remarkable similarities, this feels nothing like last year — though it might be easier for him to say, given he’s 11-for-his-last-21 as he puts a personally rough 2013 behind him.

“This is [feels like] closer games, more intensity in every game,” he said. “We’ve got energy in the dugout, [a feeling] we can tie the game or [come back and] win the game. It’s tough sometimes losing a game like [Thursday’s], but that’s the game.”

But Castro’s not going to try to claim this upcoming trip is like any other. If these guys want to prove their defiant optimism has any reality behind it, the next week of games is their chance.

“It’s good when you go play against really good teams,” he said. “We’ll see where the team is at; we’ll see what we can do, where we can be better.

Against less-touted teams, the same level of intensity doesn’t always show, he said.

“Sometimes you go to home plate like it’s easy because they don’t have a good team” he said. “But you play against good teams like the Yankees or St. Louis, you have to put 200 percent on yourself to win the game.”

Where they will get anything extra is unclear at best. Nine games in, Renteria has shown a tendency to lean hard on four bullpen guys, with Justin Grimm, James Russell, Brian Schlitter and Pedro Strop having worked six games each.

Russell, the most heavily used reliever in the league over the last two years, gave up the go-ahead, three-run homer in the seventh on the first pitch he threw to the first batter he faced, Pedro Alvarez.

He credited Alvarez with jumping on a bad pitch.

“It’s tough,” said the workhorse lefty, “especially as well as [starter Travis Wood] pitched, you never want to mess [that] up.”

Renteria: “Everybody in that [clubhouse] kept battling. They fought. We fell short. I’m sure we’ll think about it a little bit, and then put it to bed and get ready for [Friday].”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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