Halfway across the world, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer followed the Chicago Cubs’ toughest loss of the season on his phone.
Hoyer spent five days in Japan to scout, most notably getting eyes on Orix Buffaloes star right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, 25, who is expected to be posted in the offseason. The overseas trip had been planned for a while so the Cubs can keep an eye on the future as they try to get back into the postseason for the first time since 2020.
“It’s a great baseball culture and obviously they have a lot of really good players and making sure that’s a market that we are actively involved in is something that’s really important,” Hoyer said Tuesday.
The timing left Hoyer following from the ballpark’s scout seats Sunday morning in Toyko, 16 hours ahead of the Cubs’ 13-inning marathon that culminated in a gut-punching 7-6 walk-off loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“It was not one of my gold star moments,” Hoyer said, laughing. “I got on a flight later and I was still sort of staring ahead on the plane afterward to kind of think through that game because it felt like there was just so many moments of that game that felt like we were about to win and then something would happen.
“Sometimes you try to remember we’ve had some good fortune along the way when we have a game like that where it just feels like everything went against us and we couldn’t get any break,” Hoyer added. “We’ve gotten some breaks along the way and hopefully we get some more. But that one took longer to recover from the most.”
The extra-innings defeat was the defining sequence of a 1-5 road trip to Colorado and Arizona, part of a five-game losing streak the Cubs carried into Tuesday’s series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates that kicks off their final homestand.
Manager David Ross gave the Cubs a different look Tuesday, batting Cody Bellinger third, starting Christopher Morel at third base for the first time since July 5 and giving Alexander Canario his first big-league start as their designated hitter.
The Cubs’ first and third base options have taken a hit in the last week because of injuries. Jeimer Candelario is considered day-to-day as he continues the rehab process for his low back strain. He is eligible to come off the injured list Friday.
They will also be without Nick Madrigal for the foreseeable future. Ross had hoped over the weekend that Madrigal would avoid the IL, however, an MRI revealed Madrigal’s right hamstring injury was worse than the team thought. Ross isn’t ruling out a postseason return for Madrigal if they get there.
The Cubs entered Tuesday tied with the Cincinnati Reds for the third and final National League wild-card position, though the Reds own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Their next six games against two of the worst teams in the league is an opportunity the Cubs cannot waste ahead of a final road trip to Atlanta and Milwaukee.
“The perspective I try to have — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — is if you had told us this situation on July 17 or something, you would have been elated,” Hoyer said. “Obviously, we had put ourselves really in the catbird seat at one point and obviously this road trip certainly hurt that. But we would have loved to be in this position in the middle of July, and we’re here right now, and we have 12 games to play really well.
“That’s the nice thing is that we still very much have a situation where if we play well then we should be playing in October.”
Ross continues to rely on “the guys who have gotten us here,” as he likes to say, but the Cubs’ performance over the last 10 days appeared to test that approach. Before Tuesday’s game, Ross reiterated he plans to stick with that philosophy, noting the two off days within a week.
When evaluating the Cubs’ recent struggles, Hoyer said it’s hard to diagnose the possible deeper problems including whether fatigue has played a role in their shortcomings.
“At times did I feel like we looked tired? Yes. But I don’t know that,” Hoyer said. “I always say a lot of times that when you don’t hit you look tired, and we haven’t hit during that stretch. I don’t think the quality of our at-bats was nearly as good as when we were playing well. A lot of times during those periods people want to say the team looks flat and it’s like, yeah, we had the bases loaded and no one out twice and we hit double play balls — you look flat or tired when that happens.
“It sort of felt like it came out of nowhere, we played so well leading up to that point I don’t think anyone expected us to suddenly go to 2-8 in that stretch. But it happened and now we’ve got to recover from it.”