- Doug Padilla, ESPN Staff Writer
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ATLANTA – As the Cubs reached the halfway point Wednesday there was a feeling of optimism that probably wasn’t even there on Opening Day.
That's what happens when you go 7-2 for the best nine-game stretch of the season.
Even one member of the Cubs dared to imagine all the wacky scenarios that could happen and indulged himself in a fantasy where the team actually starts to make a move in the second half.
Any description of David DeJesus will have to include him being the ultimate optimist because he dared to go where many probably weren’t ready to venture at this juncture.
“We still have work to do but you’ve seen things like this happen,” DeJesus said of the 31-50 Cubs, who started the day 14 games behind the Reds and Pirates in the National League Central. “The second half of the schedule for the Reds might be tough. And who knows about ours? But we just have to worry about every game, preparing ourselves and being mentally strong. I think that will get us to where we need to be.”
Manager Dale Sveum offered a less dream-like scenario of the final 81 games saying that if the Cubs can finish above .500 on those contests it will show the team’s growth.
“We’re a much more stable team than we were a month ago as far as the lineup is concerned,” Sveum said. “The back end of the bullpen has been pretty solid. It’s that bottom end where those guys have to throw strikes. You can’t keep yourself in a ballgame to come back. We have to be better with men in scoring position and we need to throw strikes. You can’t lead the league in those two categories and think you’re going to win baseball games.”
That's hardly a dream-like scenario, though, like the one offered from DeJesus, who simply refuses to back off the concept that the Cubs can make a second-half run. And good for him since he refuses to buy into the concept that the Cubs are just playing for a paycheck at this point.
“Right now we’re in last place with one of the worst records in baseball, but if we can come out in the second half and play outstanding baseball and change the culture of our game overall that would be a positive,” he said. “And then who knows? You never know what can happen in baseball. We feel that if we can get some luck on our side we have a shot. But we want to focus on things we can control and go from there.”
The recent nine-game run has left a reason to believe things can continue to get better.
“We played so many close games and obviously we had some blowouts in the first half,” said pitcher Paul Maholm, who earned his second consecutive victory Wednesday. “I think we played a ton of close games where the pitcher didn’t make the pitch and we didn’t come up with the big hit. But guys are coming in here preparing and expecting to go for nine. That’s all you can ask.
“Obviously guys can take losing hard but we also understand that you have to get back after it tomorrow but you have to relax and play the game. Over the last 10-12 days you’ve seen a lot of guys take strides forward and hopefully we can do that for the next four games and continue as soon as we get back (from the All-Star break).”
Now there's an answer grounded in reality. But nobody can deliver optimism like DeJesus, who says the team needs to just put its collective head down and look up at the start of September and see what type of deficit remains.
“I think that’s why we have to go about grinding every game,” he said. “These are tough months. If we can stay mentally strong in these tough last two months before September comes along, I feel we will be in a good position.”
At the midpoint of what could have felt like a demoralizing season to many, DeJesus’ glass is clearly half full.