Column: The Chicago Cubs enter the All-Star break by ending a 9-game winning streak.  Will the second half bring signs of progress?

Reporters anxiously inspected the damaged Chicago Cubs bat rack Sunday morning at Wrigley Field, looking for clues like paleontologists digging for dinosaur bones.

Bent or torn pieces of metal, a broken hand sanitizer with a piece of duct tape holding it together, and a splintered piece of wood on the frame were all telltale signs that someone, or perhaps multiple people, had vented into the building structure. wood that held the players. Bats and helmets.

The battered bat rack served as a perfect metaphor for the Cubs’ 2022 season, which came at the end of the first half on Sunday with a 3-2 comeback over the New York Mets.

Nico Hoerner’s RBI single in the eighth of two runs gave the Cubs their first win at Wrigley since July 2 against the Boston Red Sox.

“When you lose a lot of games in a row, you almost forget what it feels like,” starting pitcher Adrian Sampson said. “When you win a lot of games… you just know how to win. This is a good reminder to the guys that this game is tough. We are in the major leagues and wins are hard to come by.”

The Cubs avoided their second 10-game losing streak and came out of a tie for last place with the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central, improving to 18-32 at Wrigley. They are on course for 51 losses at home, which would dwarf their all-time worst of 31-50 in 2013.

Sampson’s pitch and some late-inning heroics sent the crowd of 34,424 home in good spirits. The Mets scored both of their runs off Sampson on a first-inning Starling Marte steal after a botched interception play at first base and a fifth-inning RBI blooper by Pete Alonso that first baseman Frank Schwindel fouled. error in short right field.

But Hoerner’s third single gave the Cubs the lead in the eighth and David Robertson closed the door in the ninth.

After Saturday’s doubleheader loss to the Mets, manager David Ross praised the team’s effort against “a first-place team with a $300 million payroll.” It’s actually $259 million, but who’s counting?

However, Ross seemed to suggest the Cubs are the small engine that could, rather than a big-market franchise valued by Forbes at $3.36 billion. The truth is, Cubs president Tom Ricketts chose this route and could compete with the Mets’ payroll if he wanted.

But you can’t blame Ross for feeling like he’s being asked to win battle after battle without enough weapons, even when he knew what he was getting into. The Cubs went 33-64 in their last 97 games in 2021 and are 35-57 at halftime, giving them a .360 winning percentage (68-121) under Ross as of June 13, 2021 His predecessor, Joe Maddon, posted a .581 winning percentage in five years on the North Side before being fired.

Before Sunday’s game, Ross said he appreciated the challenge of bringing respectability back to this organization.

“I think we all know we’re not where we want to be,” Ross said. “But the difficult challenges we go through make us better every day, myself included. Players, by being in the environments that they’re putting us in right now, we’ll be able to better manage those moments long-term, for years to come. Playing good teams (and) competing deep in games, extra inning games, all of those are really good things. We just have to find ways to win ball games, and I think we will.”

It is doubtful that most of the players who learned from the struggles of the first half will be here for “years to come”. Some probably won’t be here after the Aug. 2 trade deadline, including All-Star catcher Willson Contreras, who was mired in a 1-for-36 slump before his eighth-inning single Sunday.

Cubs president Jed Hoyer is expected to unload in the next two weeks, though “unload” might not be the right terminology. In 1997, when the Cubs lost their first 14 games and came out of the All-Star break with a win-or-no decree from the front office, manager Jim Riggleman corrected a reporter who used the term.

“This is not cattle here,” Riggleman said. “We don’t use words like ‘download.’ It is not a matter of downloading.

Similarly, the Cubs would rather he didn’t use the word “rebuild” 25 years later. It’s always something with this organization. Maybe they should hand out a list of banned words at spring training.

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As bad as the 1997 Cubs team was, they went 37-50 at halftime despite an 0-14 start.

“You can’t get down and dislike each other because it can get nasty,” shortstop Shawon Dunston said then. “This is a good team. But when you win, everyone loves you. And when you lose, nobody does. We have to like each other, whether we like it or not.”

This year’s team is getting along well and Hoerner said there is a lot to look forward to in the second half.

“Summer at Wrigley is always positive to start with, so at least that’s guaranteed,” he said. “Take it for what it is, whatever comes next. The Cubs have always done a very good job of putting quality people in the clubhouse, even with the rotation we’ve had the last three or four years. That is something I have always been very grateful for. … At the very least, we have good people who will be racing hard for the rest of the season.”

You never know what the future will bring. The 1998 Cubs, one of the most exciting journeys in franchise history, followed the 1997 debacle. Still, it could be a long way to get back to where this team needs to be, and it all starts Friday in Philadelphia.

For now, take a deep breath and relax.

The worst is over, right?

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