The on-field expectations have changed for the Cubs over the last month as the team’s championship window has officially closed with the mass player-exodus at the trade deadline. The experience level of the players at the major-league level has also changed outside of remaining veterans like Jason Heyward, Kyle Hendricks, Willson Contreras and Alec Mills amongst others.
With such inexperience in the Majors as the team prepares for 2022 and beyond, the emphasis for the remaining two months for the Cubs has shifted from fighting for playoff position to teaching and culture building.
Manager David Ross is naturally leading the charge of that and with the variables of his team dramatically different as he closes out his second season at the helm, he’s making sure the players who walk through the clubhouse door know that a new standard in the organization has been set.
“They changed the team’s expectations about this organization,” Ross said after the deadline. “They changed the caliber of play that is expected. They changed expectations for our fan base that is passionate.
“I think it’s time to get to work. … Change creates opportunity, and there’s a real opportunity here for new guys to prove that they’re sustainable big-leaguers. … That’s a really valuable next two months [where] we’re gonna have to continue to keep an eye on the guys that can go out and prove it every single day.”
One thing that stood out from Jed Hoyer’s thoughts after the deadline was the idea of not wanting to “waste a crisis”. That thought has been true for Ross and his message of getting to work isn’t one he’s only putting on the players or the front office. But also himself.
There is no one that would ever say that the Cubs skipper isn’t competitive and the edge he’s brought since his time as a player has translated to his brief time as a manager.
But unlike his first season that saw the Cubs win a division title, the team has taken a drastic step back in his second year. Seeing both the highs of a division title and the lows of two 11-game losing streaks and a down season, 2021 has brought Ross new perspective.
As he focuses on leading the team each day until the end of the season, he’s also taken the time to reflect on how he wants to run his team in years to come.
“I’ve probably jotted down a lot more stuff that I will take [and] implement,” Ross said. “Just long-term thoughts and goals. ‘How do I get this message across?’ How do I get what I want in the style that I find important in certain moments?’ Not verbalizing and showing frustration.
“Everybody gets frustrated, right? It’s not just managers, but players, coaches, everybody. So not verbalizing those, you learned really quickly that everybody’s watching us. I think I learned that last year. You have to try to be the same person when I’m in the clubhouse, every day when I walk into a meeting to when I’m on the top step.”
Ross has already begun to implement some changes as the season goes on, including group stretch before batting practice on the road and team film sessions before each homestand.
As the team has transitioned, it’s offered Ross and the coaching staff the opportunity to have teachable moments, even in a stretch of where the team might not be playing as they have in recent years.
“After a bad game for a player, you don’t want to pile on, right? Take maybe two days. Let’s talk about it later or teach it the next series. We had a baserunning thing that we didn’t do great in Colorado that we showed in the next series at home. And then in the Miami series, that same player did the same exact thing, made a better read and ended up tagging up and scoring a tying-run for us.
“We’re not singling out anybody. This is what we did wrong. Everybody learned from it. The same player was in the same situation and learned from it. I think that’s a rewarding moment in a situation where we’re not winning baseball games.”