CHICAGO -- By now you should know Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria well enough to know that he’s not going to fall into any big-picture trap when answering questions about his team. His focus remains on the process. The results -- good or bad -- come from that process and that’s how he’ll look at the rest of the season, just as he has up until this point.
“The biggest thing we have to understand is the season is not going to stop simply where you’re at in terms of the standings,” Renteria said before Sunday’s series finale against the St. Louis Cardinals. “You have to still play the game.”
That’s a statement many a manager has made over the years, especially ones who have worn a Cubs uniform. There has to be meaning to a long season even if the team is out of the pennant race -- as the Cubs are again with a 42-60 record heading into Sunday’s game. But Renteria isn’t about to embrace the easy motivation of being a spoiler.
“The aspects of being a spoiler or things of that nature, those are results,” he said. “What you’re trying to do is just play good baseball. If you happen to become a spoiler in the process so be it.”
Those who don’t like that statement should consider this: Should the Cubs play the best lineup to win on a given day down the stretch, or the one that advances them towards next year and beyond? If you chose the former then you’re not seeing the big picture.
“The reality is you’re still playing for teammates, you’re still playing for the city, and you’re hopefully still trying to be professional,” Renteria said. “You’re still moving forward and where we stand in the standings shouldn’t be a factor we use one way or another.”
For example, if the Cubs really were concerned with the results in August and September reliever Neil Ramirez would not have been sent down to Triple-A Iowa on Saturday. You don’t baby an arm if you’re trying to win a pennant. Or at least you don’t do it most of the time. (See Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals). But what’s more important, being a spoiler or preserving a valuable arm? Do you really think the Cubs just randomly chose Ramirez as a guy to take it easy for a couple of weeks? They felt it was necessary for the longevity of his career.
In losing, or even tanking, there can be benefits and the Cubs have chosen to take full advantage of them. Whether it’s flipping a veteran, drafting high or resting an arm, it’s not about who the Cubs are today or next month, it's about next year or the one after. At least it’s not about 3-5 years anymore.
“Try to eliminate some of those aspects,” Renteria said. “Where are we in the season? What are we as a club? What are we competing for?”
It’s the smart strategy. Stressing wins right now is like asking his young players to play like seasoned veterans. It’s just not possible no matter how hard you try or even how hard they work. As Renteria said, it’s a process.
“Every game does matter in different ways,” Renteria said. “All these guys will perform to the best of their ability whether it’s August or September or July because I think they do know every game or play matters.”
Just not for this year.