‘Would be nice popping champagne’: David Ross, Cubs ready to build on foundation of second half
CINCINNATI — It was a bittersweet feeling for David Ross in his office at Great American Ballpark.
Yes, the Cubs had won 15-2 over the Reds, capping a 39-31 second half — the 9th best record in baseball since the All-Star Game — and finishing 12-3 over their final 15 games.
“I think from my seat you always want to point to — that would be nice popping champagne at some point,” Ross said.
For all the successes of the second half, the Cubs still finished in third place in the National League Central and out of the playoff race by 13 games.
“That’s where we’re trying to get to,” Ross said.
All the Cubs can do is take solace in the outing and know the building blocks it provides heading into an offseason sure to be filled with big implications. At the trade deadline, the Cubs dealt away four key members of the back end of their bullpen. Then, throughout the course of the second half, key pieces of their rotation succumbed to injuries.[MORE: Pitching success breeds optimism as Cubs head into important offseason]
Despite all that, the Cubs had the fourth-best team ERA in that span at 3.24, behind the Dodgers, Astros, Guardians and tied with the Braves. Their starting rotation had the third-best ERA at 2.89.
“I told them that after the game — they fought all year,” Ross said. “A lot of adversity. A lot of change. A lot of up and down. A lot of guys making their debuts. Going through what it’s like getting through 162 and these guys fought all the way and I’m super proud of how they finished.”
That’s a steppingstone that should breed some confidence heading into next season. Ross — along with president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer, general manager Carter Hawkins and other members of the front office staff — had exit interviews with each individual player this last week. In them, Ross made sure to highlight that they were collaborative building sessions, not a reflection on the individual’s season.
“I’m not a big fan of like, let’s sit down and see how your season went,” Ross said on Saturday. “Where’s the growth opportunities? How do we get better? What are you proud of? What do you wanna work on? Where can we help? What do we see that we can help with? How do we be the most complete player?
“One player asked me, ‘What do you think I need to work on?’ I’m not gonna say you need to get on base more. No, let’s get to be the best player we possibly can be.”
That’s what they focused on in the second half and what led to improvements up and down the team. Ross preached the team’s ability to show up each day, regardless of their place in the standings, and put in work to improve. Ross and the Cubs believe the cornerstone for individual growth is there and the fruits are beginning to sprout, especially on the pitching side.
“I think the main things I want to do is build on the strengths that we’ve created and the process and the routines and knowing how hard it is to get through a full season,” Ross said. “I think each individual guy, talking to them has learned a little bit something about themselves this year and how they wanna attack the offseason and come into spring training and build on this kinda second half we’ve had.
“I think that’s really important that they identify that and go into the offseason with some knowledge of where they wanna go.”