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Cubs’ better play of late unlikely to stave off sell-off

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Updated: June 10, 2014 11:55PM



PITTSBURGH —It’s what Jeff Samardzija talked about since spring training and what others in the Cubs’ clubhouse mentioned even as the team careened into mid-May with the worst record in the majors.

But could the Cubs finally be doing something about it? Are they finally taking their protest to the field and making their case to stop the roster purge that has looked inevitable since the quietest Cubs winter in more than a decade?

The Cubs’ $52 million starter, Edwin Jackson, didn’t encourage that notion Monday night, when he opened a 10-game road trip with his ninth non-quality start in 13 outings.

But a baseball pulse clearly has been detected on this team in recent weeks.

“You have to do it first,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s all talk until you do it.”

Whether they have the time — or whether any number of wins in the next month would make a difference to the front office — is anything but certain.

But after a 5-1 homestand that finished a one-run loss from a two-series sweep, the Cubs opened this three-city trip with 12 wins in their previous 20 games.

They won an extra-inning game Friday (doubling their season total), won one-run games Tuesday and Wednesday (also doubling their season total), have a hot
No. 3 hitter in Rizzo and have a bullpen that has looked among the best in the league since the late-April disabled-list exile — and eventual release — of Jose Veras.

They still entered the week with the second-worst road record in the majors (compared to a 15-14 home record). But if there was a trip to be catching the right teams at the right time, maybe it’s the one with struggling Pittsburgh, free-falling Philadelphia and a Marlins team the Cubs nearly swept over the weekend at home.

Manager Rick Renteria said he’s “very anxious” to see how his team responds to this trip, especially after showing signs of life during its most recent trip, then reeling off the strong homestand.

“More than anything, my interest is in seeing if we continue to just play good baseball,” he said. “The results will take care of themselves.”

And can that take care of the annual July sell-off?

Could that mean a longer stay for lame-duck ace Samardzija or annual “flip guy” pitcher Jason Hammel?

“We’re not thinking about that; that may or may not happen,” Hammel said. “We can’t do anything about that. But what we can do is continue to grow together as a team and pick each other up when needed. That’s how you become a good team. There’s a saying that goes, ‘Good teams win; bad teams have meetings.’

“We don’t want to have meetings. We’re done doing meetings.”

Whether they can stave off the roster cannibalizing next month that has become a rebuilding strategy in the three seasons under team president Theo Epstein is a steep task.

It didn’t make a difference in 2012 that the team was playing some of the best baseball in the league for a month leading up to the trade deadline — and still had 25 percent of the roster traded away, including two of the five starting pitchers.

“Right now, everybody’s not too worried about what’s going on in the future,” Samardzija said. “Everyone’s just trying to enjoy where we’re at right now, with how we’ve played this last week or so and kind of build on it.”

Said Rizzo: “What’s going to happen is going to happen. [But] if we play good baseball, we make everyone’s decisions a lot harder [in the front office].”

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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