They take the field expecting to win. They’re joking in the clubhouse, happy to be in the ballpark. Those loveable losers, the Chicago Cubs, are winning.
Will it last?
“In earlier years teams might have said, ‘We’re playing the Cubs, we’ll throw our gloves out there and kick their tails,”’ first baseman Mark Grace said.
“We’ve played just about everybody in the Central and the West. They have to realize the Cubs are decent. Are we championship caliber? I don’t know.
“But we’re a lot more competitive and we’re a lot more fun to watch.”
After a 2-1 loss to Atlanta on Monday, the Cubs were 19-11, their best start through 30 games in a decade.
Through the same number of games a year ago, the Cubs were 9-21 and had endured 12 straight defeats to open the home season as unhappiness festered in the clubhouse.
Veterans were fed up with incessant meetings and the way general manager Larry Himes ran the team. Ryne Sandberg, one of those veterans, retired June 13, and the season’s miserable 49-64 finish prompted big changes.
Andy MacPhail, who’d built two World Series winners in Minnesota’s small market, was named club president. He demoted Himes and hired Ed Lynch as general manager, who in turn fired manager Tom Treblehorn and hired Jim Riggleman.
The change in atmosphere is immediately apparent. Whether the Cubs keep winning is as difficult to predict as the wind direction on a given day at Wrigley. But the strong start, bolstered by a pitching staff that has the best ERA in the majors (3.37), has been good for morale.
“I hoped we could get off to a good start,” said Riggleman, who spent two losing seasons as manager of the Padres. “I hoped for a respectable start to get the negative thoughts away from the club. We have a confident feeling taking the field, we feel we have a chance to win.”
One big change has been pitching. The Cubs signed free agent Jaime Navarro and their young staff of Steve Trachsel, Kevin Foster, Frank Castillo and Jim Bullinger - now on the disabled list with elbow trouble - has been one the early surprises of the league. Castillo was injured last season and did most of his pitching in the minors, while Navarro struggled in Milwaukee, where he once won 17 games.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.