CHICAGO – The glue that brings this whole series together sat in front of a huge media throng Friday and tried to convince himself, more than anything, that his presence this weekend isn’t the one that supplies the most intrigue.
Theo Epstein, the former general manager of the Red Sox turned president of baseball operations for the Cubs, is by far the standout personality of a matchup between two last-place teams.
So is it awkward for a behind-the-scenes guy to come so sharply into focus?
“It’s not as much about me I don’t think,” Epstein said. “Any time you’re with the Red Sox get to go to a place like Wrigley Field, I remember back was it ’04 or ’05, we came here, it’s a special experience to see a ballpark like this and play a team you don’t get to play and all the fans come out.
“It’s probably the two best fan bases in baseball Red Sox fans and Cubs fans. I remember that was a special weekend and I’m sure this will be too. And yeah there is probably some curiosity about what we’re up to here as we put this thing together. I don’t know. I can’t speak for them.”
Curious indeed as Ryan Dempster took the mound in what could be one of his last outings for the Cubs. The veteran will likely be dealt to a contender as the Cubs try to replenish their system with young prospects.
If and when that happens, a struggling Cubs team might only see those current struggles grow. The club entered with a 21-42 record and is on pace to smash the franchise record of 103 defeats. It certainly seems like the Cubs front office considers this season a lost cause in the interest of a better future, but Epstein won’t flat-out admit to that.
“It’s never easy,” Epstein said. “You can talk about a division and a plan in theory and when you have to get in the trenches day in and day out and suffer through some losses it’s really tough. And it should be. If it was easy then you’d be in the wrong game.
“You have to strike a delicate balance because you don’t want to talk too much about the future. You have to have complete respect for what these 25 players are trying to accomplish day in and day out and the integrity of this season and how hard they are preparing each and every night.”
Clearly the Cubs weren’t counting on losing 110 games, but perhaps for the sake of those same players, Epstein wouldn’t call this an underachieving squad. When you build a club with a number of gaping holes it’s probably not best to then throw it under the bus.
“I think that would be disrespectful of the effort they’re putting in,” Epstein said when asked if the team has underachieved. “I think we’re not where we want to be and there are some games we’d like back. We could have won a few more games. But these guys are playing hard, they’re preparing hard and they’re not backing down. I think we’ll find a way to grind our way to a few more wins going forward the rest of the season.”
For now, the plan is to watch Epstein’s past meet his present on the floor of Wrigley Field. It’s the franchise he took to the playoffs in his first season as red Sox GM in 2003 against the franchise that won’t come close to sniffing the playoffs in his first season on the North Side.
Despite the differences, Epstein can see some similarities.
“Well, I had been with the Red Sox for a year before I became GM so I had the opportunity to get to know everybody and get a feel for what we did well and what needed to improve,” Epstein said. “Maybe it was a little more of a subtle process but we made moves at the big league level and ad success right off the bat and that bought us time to commit to the Red Sox way of doing things which is what we established there with scouting and player development.
“A lot of the work is similar. Here I think there is clearly a mandate for change. I think that’s why with the new ownership and bring new people in. There didn’t have to be that much convincing, we just got together in the same room and talked about how we want to teach the game, what we want to stand for as an organization and how we’re going to execute at the minor-league level. That was a fun process and it’s nice to see it play out in the minor leagues.”