CINCINNATI -- The questions are often faced by many struggling teams. The Chicago Cubs are no different.
Do you stick with what you have, showing faith in your decisions and hoping the players start performing to the caliber you expected? Or do you bite the bullet, admit mistakes and make some changes? Is it some of both, and if so, who stays and who goes?
Even before Chicago lost 7-4 to the Cincinnati Reds on Friday in the first game of their three-game series at Great American Ball Park -- extending their losing streak to a season-high five games and dropping them a season-worst 11 games below .500 -- manager Dale Sveum admitted that the time might be coming to contemplate a shakeup.
“You’re running up on a couple months away now, trying to put things together where you pull off some streaks and some winning months and winning weeks, to give yourself a chance to give yourself hope,” he said. “There’s no question about it, but we all know that if we don’t, there could be changes.”
What those would, could or should be is another matter. To many onlookers, one obvious change would be to the status of right-hander Edwin Jackson, who is 1-7 with a 6.11 ERA over 10 starts after signing a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs as a free agent. While the solution that’s obvious to some is taking the 29-year-old Jackson out of the rotation for a while, that’s a hard sell with so much money invested in him. Fifty-two million bucks buys a lot of rope.
“You’ve got a commitment there,” Sveum said. “You’ve got to stick with the commitment and coach them and teach. It’s not like he's a kid. He's a veteran player. Sometimes you just have to do it yourself. People play in the big leagues a long time. Sometimes you just have to do the things to get better yourself. We can coach and do a lot of things, but it still comes down to the individual making these adjustments to get over a hump and get through a slump.”
Jackson will get plenty of opportunities to get back on track.
“It’s a long season,” Sveum said. “There’s still another 20-plus starts there to fix this and get it going. You could look at some other big-time starters in baseball -- the [Mark] Buehrles in the world; there are some big boys out there struggling. That’s why, in the long run, at the end of the year, hopefully that media guide doesn't lie.”
Getting through it: Another player who will get a chance to work his way through a slump is first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who went into Saturday’s game hitless in his past 22 at-bats.
The 23-year-old Rizzo, who started and batted third or fourth in every one of the Cubs’ 47 games going into Saturday’s matchup with the Reds, hit .390 with 10 doubles, four home runs and 16 RBIs over a 21-game span through May 18. Since then, he is hitless in five games, including going 0-for-5 on Friday.
“I guess you could call it different things, but there’s an urgency there,” Sveum said. “He’s not taking walks. He’s guessing. He has a lot more movement than he normally does at the plate.”
The left-handed hitter said his approach hasn’t changed since signing on May 13 his much-ballyhooed seven-year, $41 million contract.
“You’d think the game would be easier with the financial security, but it’s amazing how your instincts stay the same,” Rizzo said.
Sveum didn’t seem inclined to give Rizzo a head-clearing day off.
“About the time you start to think about it, the guy gets hot,” Sveum said. “He’s one of our core players. He has to learn how to handle adversity.”
Changing times: To appreciate how baseball has changed, all anybody needs to do is stop by the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park.
Lined up in a neat row along the walls are cubicles set aside for these members of the Cubs’ traveling party, as identified by the placards attached to the frame across the top: Interpreter, Video, Therapist, Therapist, Massage, Strength Coach, Assistant Trainer and Trainer.