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Hoyer: Cubs need to right ship ahead of deadline

MILWAUKEE — Chicago Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said ownership is “clearly frustrated” with the way the team has played this season and if its position in the standings doesn’t improve, he said he’ll have to think about subtracting from the roster instead of adding to it ahead of the July 30 trade deadline.

“It has undoubtedly dragged on far longer than we expected or hoped,” Hoyer said of a two-month slump that has seen the Cubs drop to 38-45 — the latest loss Friday night to the Brewers, 4-2. “We need to play a lot better. We dug ourselves a hole, and we have to dig out of that hole.

“It’s important we do that in this next 33 days or whatever we have until the deadline. You have to make hard decisions sometimes.”

The Cubs are last in the NL Central, 11.5 games behind the first-place Brewers. They’ve lost eight games to Milwaukee in the standings over the last 32 days.

“I am very surprised,” Hoyer said. “Two weeks turned into four, turned into six, turned into eight … It just hasn’t ended.”

Hoyer pointed to the team’s offensive woes as a catalyst for its plummet, but the bullpen has struggled just as much. Chicago ranks 23rd in bullpen ERA, as it’s struggled to close out games and also has dealt with injuries. The latest to go down was middle-man Keegan Thompson, who was placed on the injured list with a rib fracture Friday. The team also designated newly acquired reliever Vinny Nittoli for assignment.

In the corresponding roster moves, the Cubs selected the contract of former Mets reliever Jorge Lopez and called up righty Ethan Roberts, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

For Lopez, it’s a second chance. After he was pulled from the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 29, Lopez threw his glove into the stands and then had a misunderstanding with reporters afterward in an attempt to blame himself for some of the team’s issues. The Mets subsequently DFA’d him earlier this month.

“I’m never going to do it again in my life,” Lopez said Friday before throwing one scoreless inning against the Brewers. “It’s emotions. I’ve been working on my mental health for a long time. That’s my priority to not show that anymore, give the best energy and body language that I can to the game.”

Lopez said he wants to set an example for his 11-year-old son.

“He doesn’t know much about it,” Lopez said. “I have to teach him the things not to do. Need to respect the game. I’m not proud of that (what happened).”

In joining the Cubs, Lopez is reunited with bullpen coach Darren Holmes, who held the same position with the Baltimore Orioles from 2019 to ’23, when Lopez pitched for the team.

Lopez and Roberts could be thrust into major roles as Chicago only has three relievers on its active roster from opening day. That turnover has contributed to its overall woes.

“Most of what we’ve been doing is out of necessity,” Hoyer said. “We keep getting hit there.”

In terms of the Cubs offense, Hoyer admitted he can’t tinker with it much considering his core players are all under longer-term contracts. In other words, the trade deadline won’t fix the team’s run-scoring problems; it will have to come from within.

“There’s not a ton of wiggle room on as far as how we can shake things up and improve things, positionally,” Hoyer said. “When you look at where we’ve performed this year with a team that’s stronger (on paper), it’s lesser. Is that frustrating to me? Absolutely. If it’s frustrating to me, I have to imagine it’s frustrating to the fans.”

But the Cubs also haven’t controlled the controllables.

For example, Chicago entered Friday leading the league in one-run games and in outs made on the bases, including 15 at home plate. That’s a lot of potential scoring left out on the field, which could have turned losses into wins.

It’s also the third consecutive season the team has led the league in outs made at home plate, calling into question the judgment of third-base coach Willie Harris.

“We’ve done a ton of research,” Hoyer said. “Plays at the plate are really hard. It behooves you to be aggressive in those situations. You can take that a little too far. He is aggressive, and off the scorecard we work off of, he does a good job.”

The Cubs entered Friday ranked second in the league in going from first to third base on a single, so some of that aggressiveness has paid off. Yet overall the team hasn’t played as well as last season, when it won 83 games while just missing out on the postseason.

“Our win-total projections were higher this year than last year,” Hoyer said.

All of it adds up to a critical month for the team even though it doesn’t have a lot of pending free agents. Still, Hoyer will ultimately pivot to trading away players instead of adding if the standings dictate it.

“I don’t think it’s time for that full conversation, but it’s just a reality that we have to play better in July,” he said. “We backed ourselves into a corner.”

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