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As Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer put it Tuesday, the team’s 10-game skid did sort of feel like it “came out of nowhere.”
Less than two weeks ago, they had just got done sweeping the Giants — another National League Wild Card contender — at home, moving to just 1 1/2 games back in the NL Central and building a solid 3 1/2 game lead on the second Wild Card spot. Then they dropped eight of their next 10 games, including five of six on the road, losing their grip on a playoff position and looking like they were on their way to a disastrous end to a bumpy but ultimately fun season.
So, with just 12 games remaining in the regular season entering Tuesday’s series opener versus the Pirates, the Cubs just needed to figure out a way to get back in the win column.
“We played so well leading up to that point, I don’t think anyone expected us to suddenly go 2-8 in that stretch,” Hoyer said. “But it happened, and now we’ve got recover from it.”
The Cubs weren’t going to make drastic changes to try and reverse their luck.
Yes, Christopher Morel and Alexander Canario were written into the lineup at third base (where Morel hadn’t played since July 5) and designated hitter (in Canario’s first career start), respectively, with a lefty starting the game for the Pirates. But those moves came more as a result of Nick Madrigal (right hamstring strain) officially joining Jeimer Candelario (low back strain) on the 10-day injured list Tuesday, which meant the Cubs needed dip into their corner infield depth.
As far as how he approached questions about playing time or potential days off, Cubs manager David Ross reiterated what he’s been saying for weeks: “We’re going to lean on the guys that got us here.”
That means the Cubs will be relying on their regular players to be in the lineup and produce in order to complete the playoff push. Ross pointed out the two off days over the last five days, plus another day off next Monday, as time to rest down the stretch. But with less than two weeks left in the regular season, there’s no more giving guys breathers. The everyday players will need to be the ones leading the charge.
“I do understand the desire to believe in the group of guys that kind of dragged us to this point, that got us to not sell at the deadline,” Hoyer said. “I understand that that is the group that’s been in the fight the whole time.”
So, Ross continued to roll with the Cubs’ regulars as they attempted a quick turnaround to start the homestand. And although Alexander Canario’s grand slam in the eighth was the highlight-reel moment of the game, “the guys that got us here” played major roles in the Cubs’ 14-1 win over the Pirates.
Nico Hoerner reached base twice and contributed a sacrifice fly out of the leadoff spot. Dansby Swanson’s two-run homer in the first inning provided some early cushion. Seiya Suzuki went 3-for-4 with a home run and a double. Morel worked two walks and scored three times. Cody Bellinger’s struggles (he was hitting just .205 with a .564 OPS in his last 10 games coming in) continued to start his night, but he launched a three-run home run in his last at-bat to end his night on a high note.
The pitching side was just as impressive. Javier Assad — who’s help in stabilizing the rotation played a role the Cubs’ rise in August — did get hit hard (93.9 mph average exit velocity on 12 balls in play), but he limited the damage and held Pittsburgh to just one run. Drew Smyly, Jose Cuas, Mark Leiter Jr. and Luke Little held the Pirates to only two walks over the final four frames, finishing off a dominant performance for the Cubs.
There’s a bunch of “guys that got us here” involved in that win, a win that gave the Cubs sole possession of the last Wild Card spot (by a 1/2 game over the Marlins).
Could some have used more days off during the recent stretch that saw them play 27 games in 27 days, with 14 in 13 to finish it? Probably, but players across the league are dealing with things at this point in the season. Nobody wants to sit out at the end of playoff push.
“This game that we play is a marathon, it’s not a sprint, but when you get into these moments that kind of does feel like a sprint, just being able to have the experience to go through it and understand that you’ve got to just push yourself each and every day to make something happen,” Swanson said. “No one on any team feels their best right now. But that’s where you’d like to thrive is when your back is against the wall and things are a little bit challenging. That’s when you step up.”
That mindset is shared throughout the locker room, especially considering the season is not over. They lost their playoff position thanks to the 2-8 stretch, yes, but they still have some control over their playoff fate.
Whether it’s “the guys that got us here” or some younger players stepping into larger roles, they all understand that the get to the postseason, they have to focus on taking care of things one day at a time.
“You’ve got to understand that there’s always going to be tough stretches, no matter what,” Ian Happ said. “Even the best Cubs teams that were ever here went through tough two-week spots. That’s baseball. There’s teams that’ll lose three in a row, even though they’re going to win 105 games this year.
“You’ve got to be OK with that, and you’ve got to keep moving to the next day and understand that it really is one day at a time. It’s very cliche, but it’s super important.”
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