Theo Epstein joined Matt Spiegel and Barry Rozner on 670 The Score prior to the first game of the series with the Pirates. And Epstein said a lot during what was a relatively short segment on the Cubs’ flagship.
On the Cubs first two-game losing ‘streak’ of the season and tempering expectations
“It’s not baseball reality to have things go as well as they have all season the way they started out the first five, six weeks. It doesn’t take away from all of the hard work that’s gone in to it. Our guys are so focused from the first game of the season on and have worked so hard and are so committed to making the most of this opportunity that they have as a group, as a collection of talent, as a collection of individuals. I think that’s why we’ve played so well. They are really good and they really care. It doesn’t mean that we are going to go slump-free for the whole season. It doesn’t mean that we’re not going to get swept in a doubleheader by a team that the standings tell you we should beat. That’s the nature of baseball. We’re up against a really talented left-handed pitcher today. It’s just the way it goes. But over 162 if we can maintain this approach and maintain good health and keep getting after it the way we are I like our chances.”
On Charlie Pierce’s piece in Sports Illustrated, ‘The Last Great American Sports Story,’ and can a team playing as well as the Cubs have still feel like an underdog or feel like it has something to prove? Can a juggernaut feel like an underdog?
“Look, that’s all under the category of narrative and sort of how you feel about the team and how you perceive the team. We just can’t concern ourselves with that. Our job is to win and we haven’t done it yet and this franchise hasn’t done it in over a century. So if people want to characterize us as a juggernaut or if they want to characterize us an underdog … that’s just noise, you know? Our job, our players’ job is to forget the noise and go out and focus on that day’s game and … shoot, you guys are great at working the narrative and they’re real that’s how the game is best enjoyed seen through that lens some ways. You guys are going to forward it one way or the other. Our job is just to go out and win. We certainly don’t feel like we are entitled to anything. We certainly don’t feel like anything is fait accompli. We don’t feel like we are in the playoffs and we’re thinking about October yet. I was asked the other day when do we have to start making those tough decisions, like the Golden State Warriors. How hard do you push for the All-Time wins record versus getting the guys rested for playoffs? I almost fell out of my chair. That’s not reality. The reality is that we’re a really talented team that’s off to a good start, off to a great start. And there’s going to be a lot of adversity over the course of the season and we’re going to have to deal with that. We’ll have to rise up to it to get where we want to go. So there are going to be times when we are perceived as a juggernaut and times we’re perceived as an underdog. Times that people think we’re overachieving. Times where people think we are underachieving. That’s the narrative and the way the game is consumed and it’s awesome. I miss relating to the game that way in some ways as a fan because you can’t do that anymore in my role. We’re just focused on building the best organization we can, the best Major League team that we can, showing up as locked in and as focused as we can each night 162 times and then seeing where we are at the end of the year and try to win a World Series.”
On having contingencies for injuries, are there players that are irreplaceable? Do the Cubs have contingencies for even the worst of scenarios?
“No. No. I think every team is exposed, potentially exposed with certain injuries. If we lose the wrong guy or a certain combination of players certainly we will be in trouble. It doesn’t mean we can’t respond and find a way out of it. I think that’s the nature of baseball. The way the game is designed, the attrition that’s natural over 162 [games]. It’s impossible to cover yourself in every area. It doesn’t feel that way when you’re playing as well as have and when we are as deep as we are right now. But there are certain areas where we could get exposed just like every other team. It’s our job to keep grinding and make sure that doesn’t happen. And when it does happen it doesn’t last long.”
On if there are areas that are not going well for the team right now. And if Jorge Soler continues to struggle is there a point in the not too distant future that the Cubs decide he would he be better off playing every day somewhere else?
“That’s not a consideration right now. If we had that approach last year he probably doesn’t find his way into the lineup against Jaime Garcia in Game 2 in St. Louis and doesn’t carry us through that series and into the NLCS. Right now that’s not a consideration at all. It’s just about getting him going. And I do think, I do think he’s under probably under a disproportion amount of scrutiny because I think we’ve all gotten a little bit spoiled around here with how well some of the young guys have adjusted with almost a seamless transition to the big leagues. Kris Bryant comes up, has one tough game against James Shields and goes on to win Rookie of the Year. Now he’s got a .900 OPS and off and running on his career. That’s really the exception, that’s not the norm throughout baseball and throughout baseball history. It’s more normal, if you take a look at, and I always use them as an example because they just won the World Series and they deserve a ton of credit, the Royals. If you look at their trio of young guys when they came up in [Eric] Hosmer and [Mike] Moustakas and [Alex] Gordon, they had periods of great performance, like Jorge had last year in the playoffs when he carried us, and then they had periods where they really struggled and they were optioned, a couple of those guys were optioned to Triple-A and a couple of them suffered through real tough seasons. Then ultimately the team was patient with them, those guys made adjustments, they worked very hard and then they caught fire together towards the end of the ’14 season and ended up getting to a World Series and winning a World Series. I just think if the player is talented enough and Jorge has demonstrated that offensively he’s extremely talented. Just look at the post-season last year. Then if the organization is patient enough, both parties will be rewarded in the end. That’s the general rule that there are going to be periods where it’s tough to take. But you have to stick with it.”
Matt Spiegel concluded the interview by talking to Theo Epstein about the Hot Stove Cool Music Benefit at the Metro starring Liz Phair on June 17.
Theo would not commit to playing at the event this year as he has in the past. He’s not sure if he will have enough time to prepare properly. Epstein said his participation would depend on what is going on with the team “and trades and everything else.”