MILWAUKEE — Theo Epstein says to put the blame on him — and no one else — for the Chicago Cubs‘ tough start to the season.
After winning their opening game last week, the Cubs have dropped six straight entering Saturday, failing both on the mound and in the field. The slide prompted Epstein, the team’s president of baseball operations, to issue an apology to fans while shouldering the blame.
“There is always a search for scapegoats when you get off to a tough start,” Epstein said in the Cubs’ dugout before Saturday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. “[Pitching coach] Tommy Hottovy is not the problem. He’s a big part of the solution. [Owner] Tom Ricketts is not the problem. It’s not a resource issue. I know he’s another one that’s been taking a lot of heat. It’s not a resource problem. If people have a problem with the allocation of resources, then that’s on me. And it has been ever since I got here, with a lot of good and some bad.”
The bad that Epstein was referring to is mostly on the mound, where last offseason he sunk $126 million into Yu Darvish, $38 million into Tyler Chatwood and $21 million into Brandon Morrow. None has come close to paying off.
The rest of the staff hasn’t helped, either. The Cubs rank 28th in ERA so far. On top of that, they surprisingly rank at the bottom of the league in defense after seven games this year.
“It’s been real close to, if not, a worst-case scenario for us, defensively and in terms of our pitching,” Epstein said. “That gets your attention in a negative way. We’re sorry we’re putting our fans through this.”
Before Saturday’s game, the Cubs optioned Carl Edwards Jr., who was once a key pitcher for the team but has struggled mightily this year.
Manager Joe Maddon said he couldn’t remember a scenario in which he had to send out a veteran before the team had played a home game. The Cubs don’t play their first game at Wrigley Field until Monday. So far, their nine-game road trip to open the season has been an unmitigated disaster.
“We need to change the script,” Epstein said. “We also know we control that. We need to play better defensibly and throw more strikes, and this should stabilize.”
It’s still early April, but Milwaukee’s hot start (7-1) combined with the Cubs’ slow one has made the standings a topic. In a worst-case scenario, the Cubs will be 7.5 games out of first place before playing their home opener.
“In a really competitive league and division, you don’t want to dig yourself too great a hole,” Epstein said. “It’s pretty important we start to turn this thing around and dig our way back to .500.”
Even Maddon’s job security has been a topic this early, considering he’s in the final year of his contract and the Cubs have publicly stated his fate won’t be decided until after the season. Asked if he was feeling any pressure associated with the bad start, Maddon said, “Zero.”
“The last four years have been pretty good,” he said. “If I have to rely on a week’s worth of baseball games, then that’s a bad process.”
Maddon was also willing to shoulder the blame for the Cubs’ poor start, but Epstein acknowledged that at the end of the day, “it’s all my responsibility.”
“This search for magic bullets or scapegoats, I don’t think that’s productive,” Epstein said. “I understand it, but ultimately it’s all my responsibility. … I’m not in it alone, thank god. We have really talented people here. We have great players that we trust. We’re all going to part of pulling out of this.
“You have to find a way to stabilize it even when things seem unstable.”