Festivity was in the air Friday at Wrigley Field, and not just because it was Cinco de Mayo.
It was “Mash” Mervis Day, too.
Sure, everybody was excited to see powerhouse lefty slugger Matt Mervis, a 25-year-old first baseman, make his debut in the big leagues. May he have a long, loving relationship with Sheffield Ave.
But Mervis is here because there’s room for him, and there’s room for him because the Cubs recently stopped hitting.
The sights and sounds of conviviality are — even on a gorgeous day at Wrigley — a bit strange, a bit out of context when the bats are in the deep-freeze and the team still is bruised and bloodied from a 1-6 road trip that was part of a 4-10 slide. The Cubs lost five one-run games on the nightmarish trip, or, as an oaf without an appreciation for the specificity of language might describe it, “cinco de uh-oh.”
It got a little better with a 4-1 series-opening win against the Marlins, who swept the Cubs last weekend in Miami. But before the game, manager David Ross gave a clear indication of how it feels to lose by a nose as often as the Cubs — 2-7 in one-run games — already have.
“It sucks,” he said with a pained chuckle. “All right? It sucks hard.”
It really must — especially for Ross, who lately has been the chief target of some Cubs fans’ ire. If you swim in the Twitter cesspool, you couldn’t miss the beating Ross took while his team was fumbling away three games to the amateur-hour Nationals. One poll asked if he should be fired, with over 40% of 1,000-plus respondents voting in the affirmative.
“Is everybody mad at me?” asked Ross, who claimed to be blissfully unaware of any criticism.
There have been some shaky moments for the fourth-year skipper. There was an early loss to the Reds in which he had Patrick Wisdom bunt with two runners on and no outs in the seventh inning of a game the Cubs trailed by a run. A bit later, there was the decision to let Michael Fulmer pitch to the Dodgers’ David Peralta with runners on second and third and two outs in the ninth inning and the Cubs leading 1-0. Just the other day in Washington, there was Eric Hosmer — who has three sacrifice bunts in his 13-year career — being ordered to lay one down with two on and no outs in the ninth and the Cubs down 2-1.
Egregious moves? Unforgivable? Look, we wouldn’t even be talking about them had they worked. But they sure didn’t. Some of Ross’ lineup decisions have inflamed a segment of the fan base, too.
“I learned in my playing career that when things are going well for you, everybody loves you,” Ross said, “and when you stink as a player, then nobody’s a big fan. I’m sure it’s the same way in this [manager’s] seat. It’s part of this seat that when things aren’t going well, it should be directed at me. I’ll take all the heat and keep it off the players.”
Of course, it hardly was Ross’ fault the Cubs failed to score after putting runners on second and third with no outs in the ninth inning of a 3-3 game in the series finale against the Nationals. Cody Bellinger struck out, then Wisdom struck out, then Trey Mancini flied out. Longtime Cubs fans regard this kind of blown opportunity as being “classic Cubs.” Longtime fans of pretty much any team say the same thing about their guys.
But the Cubs are in a serious offensive rut, a snapshot of which came on the field before Friday’s game when second baseman Nico Hoerner was presented with an award as the Cubs’ player of the month for April. Hoerner did, indeed, get off to a blistering start at the plate, but then came the road trip from hell — he batted just .179, his average dropping from .367 to .304 and his on-base percentage from .406 to .349.
Anyway, Ross can take a public flogging as well as the next guy.
“Did we play up to our ability on the road trip? No,” he said. “Is that my fault? Sure.”
Cubs president Jed Hoyer also claimed to be unaware of any criticism of Ross.
“I have my own opinions about everything,” Hoyer said. “I think he’s an A-plus in the clubhouse every day, and we talk about all the decisions. But ultimately we [went] 1-6 and lost five one-run games, and obviously we need to be better in those situations and better in those games. But I think it’s a collective thing. I think we’ll get back to that.”
Ross, too, remains confident.
“We have a good team,” he said.
A good manager, too?
“That’s for everybody else to judge,” he said.