‘Take care of today’: Cubs trying to tune out the noise as uncertain future awaits
ST. LOUIS — The Cubs players don’t know exactly what’s going to happen later this month. Neither does David Ross’ coaching staff.
Jed Hoyer’s front office might have picked a lane for the team entering the trade deadline but even the executives can’t say exactly what will transpire as July 30 approaches.
That uncertainty can be anxiety-inducing and distracting. But it can also work in the Cubs’ favor and they began the second half of the season with an aim on weaponizing that mindset.
The first two games out of the All-Star Break followed that narrative perfectly, as the Cubs beat the Diamondbacks to pick up a series win. But then they dropped the finale Sunday afternoon in Arizona and a sloppy defensive inning Monday night in St. Louis turned the tide in a game against the Cardinals.
The end result was a pair of losses that sunk the Cubs to sole possession of fourth place in the NL Central.
As all the rumors and questions swirl outside the clubhouse, internally, the Cubs are trying to tune out the noise.
“Just trying to focus on the day-to-day,” Ross said. “And trying not to get too caught up in the outside. Even when we were a first-place team my last year playing [in 2016] and had a chance of winning night in and night out, there’s outside narratives that can creep in to a clubhouse that you can distract yourself with. They really don’t affect what’s going on in the process of competing that night.
“If you just continue to focus on playing our best brand of baseball and figuring out how we’re gonna win tonight, I think that’s the only thing that we can control and we try to stay focused on that.”
We still don’t know exactly what the future has in store for Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Báez — the faces of the franchise for most of the last decade.
We’ll find out over the course of the next 10 days.
Jason Heyward has been down this road before in his own career. During his 2015 season with the St. Louis Cardinals, the prospect of free agency and an uncertain future hung over him. But he learned how to cope.
“There’s nothing anybody can do about that,” Heyward said. “All you can control is right here. When we step out here and we play the game against another team, that’s literally all we have control over.
“I’m in a different situation than the next group of guys but I’ve been through that as well. The way I handled it was to go play baseball. You’re playing in, to me, one of the best divisions in sports — NL Central. We got Cubs-Cards this week. We got to open up in Arizona, which it was nice to see some of our fans out there. Enjoy those things.
“Everything else has [already] happened and at the end of the day, if you could say that you know how everything’s gonna play out, then you wouldn’t be telling the truth because you don’t.”
Heyward said he has had discussions with his teammates who are nearing free agency and he is there to lend some perspective whenever a friend approaches him in the clubhouse.
It’s also a strange position for him to be in, as the uncertain future doesn’t only pertain to one or two individuals but a key group of players that helped end the World Series drought in Chicago.
“This is the first season where there’s been this much ‘what if?’ going on, for me personally,” Heyward said. “But I’m also enjoying that. I think it’s a privilege to be able to say you’ve seen so many things happen in the game. If you get too lost in it, then it takes away from what it really is and that’s just going out here and playing 9 innings of baseball.”
The Cubs fell to 9.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the division after Monday’s loss. But Ross and the players are still trying to maintain the mindset that there is enough time on the schedule to turn things around and change the narrative of their 2021 season.
“Crazier things have happened,” Ross said. “You always think about that silver lining of hope and you try to come out and control winning that day. You string a bunch of those together, that creates confidence and momentum.
“Baseball’s a lot of fun that way and things can turn really fast — both ways, as we’ve seen it for us this year.”
Heyward echoed his manager’s sentiment.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the standings,” Heyward said. “You gotta take care of today. That’s all you got. That’s all you can do.”