(MCT) CHICAGO — As far away as the Cubs are from being the Dodgers, they were neck-and-neck only six weeks ago.
The Dodgers were 12 games below .500 on June 21 and dealing with media speculation manager Don Mattingly would be fired. The Cubs also were 12 games below at the time, and management was about to embark on another summer sell-off with Carlos Marmol as the first exile.
Now the Dodgers may be World Series-bound, with Marmol hitching a ride, while the Cubs are happy to have played one game above .500 in July despite trading away Alfonso Soriano and Matt Garza, among others.
Before Thursday night’s game with the Dodgers, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said the players truly believe they eventually can get to the promised land together.
The future looked a little brighter when Junior Lake cranked a pair of home runs, Anthony Rizzo homered for the second straight night and rookie starter Chris Rusin held his own against the hottest team in baseball for awhile before leaving in the sixth inning after being charged with four runs on seven hits and three walks.
One of the common threads of departing Cubs players over the years has been a genuine sadness upon leaving, no matter how far the team was from winning. It happened again last week with Soriano, who seemed ambivalent about going from the Cubs to the Yankees.
“The thing about Chicago is you have an opportunity here to do something that you really can’t do anywhere else in any game — win a championship that hasn’t been done in (104) years,” Barney said. “That’s what really drives people to want to be here, to see what it would be like.
“People fall in love with the idea and with the concept of wanting to get better here and to win here. ‘Sori’ said it every time (the media) asked him about that. He wanted to win here, and to stay here.
“Hopefully in the future it will work out for us. How many people do you talk to that say: ‘We just want to see the Cubs win before we die?’ Where else in sports do you hear people saying stuff like that?”
The Dodgers are winning with former castoffs from the Red Sox, including Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, whom Cubs President Theo Epstein signed to big multiyear contracts when in Boston. They also have Hanley Ramirez, a former Red Sox prospect Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer sent to the Marlins in the Josh Beckett deal during a 44-day period he ran the club when Epstein left the organization for a time.
But throwing money around and dealing top prospects for stars no longer is in the Epstein/Hoyer playbook.
“I’m of the belief you’re never one player away,” Epstein recently said. “If you think you’re one player away you’re getting desperate and asking for trouble. It’s the single biggest factor in whether you have a chance to contend, the overall health of the organization.
“Over time, the overall health, the overall talent level will manifest itself at the big league level with a little bit of patience. Were focused on building a healthy, productive organization with a robust farm system.”