PITTSBURGH -- Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein feels the pain of the fan base and he understands he's under the microscope now more than ever.
"Our fans have been incredibly supportive," Epstein said on Monday. "Even the ones not on board. They're still coming out supporting us, holding us to a high standard, which is a form of support."
But they aren't coming to the ballpark as much with attendance dropping for five straight years. The Cubs are hopeful celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field will help change that as will winning a few more games along the way.
"Our goal is to go out and surprise some people," Epstein said. "I don't think expectations are that high, externally. We have a tough schedule early so we can certainly turn the narrative on its head by going and having a good first month of the season."
The narrative can also change if young players excel, both in the majors and in the minors. Epstein reiterated the notion that if prospects dominate they'll move up. It means several good ones could see the majors before year's end. Right now, Epstein is focused on what's in front of him, and he understands that fans are as well.
"Baseball is best enjoyed that day and watching that team right in front of you trying to win a game," he said. "We haven't been good enough judging by that standard. The only standard that matters is wins and losses. We just haven't been good enough. I'm right there with them. I understand it.
"We look forward to doing some things this season that make them proud. In the long haul we want to reward them with pennant races and October baseball."
There it is in a nutshell. If the Cubs can simply make fans feel better about the team this year than the previous two while their prospects take steps forward, that's going to be a victory for the organization.
It's possible the Cubs win more games than a season ago. This is a better, more flexible lineup. And it's younger. Any one of them can emerge as a core player -- as a starter or reserve player.
"There are plenty of players with upside on this roster," Epstein said. "We have some increased flexibility."