Kyle Hendricks was pulled after three innings Tuesday night in Milwaukee with right shoulder soreness, and the first question posed to Chicago Cubs manager David Ross was how Hendricks was feeling.
“Uh, I mean, I think that’s a weird question to ask, right?” Ross replied. “We took him out. He’s just a little tender.”
It was not a weird question. It was, however, a weird response from Ross.
Hendricks’ health is important to the Cubs as they try to salvage something from this brutal season. And as a fan favorite and one of the only remaining players from the 2016 championship team, Hendricks’ status is important to many of those still tuning into the Cubs as they play out the string in the second half.
So if Ross is going to get upset about an innocuous question from the network owned by the team, it’s going to make for a rough second half for the third-year manager.
And as it turned out, Hendricks was placed on the 15-day injured list Wednesday with a right shoulder strain, leaving him out of action until after the All-Star break.
The Cubs went on to beat the Brewers 2-1 at American Family Field to win their fourth straight series and headed to Los Angeles on an up note entering a four-game set against the Dodgers.
Despite the modest hot streak, the Cubs are 34-48 and on pace to lose 95 games, and the only remaining suspense is who will be dealt by the Aug. 2 trade deadline. Once Willson Contreras departs, the reasons for watching grow even shorter.
Here’s another weird question: Does Ross realize how easy he has had it in Chicago?
The struggles of the White Sox and the ongoing Tony La Russa saga have taken up most of the bandwidth in town, leaving the Cubs to play second fiddle to their crosstown rivals. That’s a good thing for Ross, who hasn’t had to deal with the daily scrutiny La Russa faces.
Ross’ job the remaining three months will be to develop young players, get closer to .500 by the end of September and give fans a reason to believe the organization is heading in the right direction. He has been given a virtual pass this season because no one expected the Cubs to do much. But since June 14, 2021, the Cubs have a .374 winning percentage (67-112), which is unacceptable by anyone’s standards.
In fact, that’s even worse than Dale Sveum’s .392 winning percentage (127-197) in the first two seasons of the original rebuild in 2012–13, when the Cubs were trying to lose to get better draft position. Sveum never really had a chance and was fired in 2013 after allegedly being too tough on the young talent, particularly shortstop Starlin Castro.
When the Cubs began to win under Joe Maddon in 2015, fans thought they never would have to go through a stretch of losing like 2012-13 again. How wrong they were.
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Ross has no worries about getting the Sveum treatment from Cubs management. He’s Hoyer’s friend and just signed an extension in spring training. Ross’s job is safer than perhaps any manager besides La Russa.
But that doesn’t mean he has been absolved by Cubs fans for the team’s plight. Ditto for pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, whose starters ended the first half Tuesday with a 4.95 ERA and 17-32 record. The starters’ 5.85 ERA in June was the second worst in baseball, ahead of only the Detroit Tigers’ 6.04. Injuries to Marcus Stroman, Wade Miley and Drew Smyly can be blamed.
But Stroman wasn’t consistent when he was healthy, and Miley, picked up on waivers from the Cincinnati Reds, hasn’t been healthy enough to know whether he would’ve made a difference.
The matchup against the Dodgers in Los Angeles will be another stark reminder of what kind of team the Cubs should have been — always contending and often dominating. It’s a big-market team that acts like one. The Cubs can’t even compete in one of the weakest divisions in baseball.
But at least it’s half over, so maybe the worst really is behind them.
Can the Cubs have a second half that creates a sense of optimism for 2023, or will it be one step forward and three steps back the rest of the way?
Weird question, I know.