It was consistency in their process and day-to-day demeanor that got the Cubs to where they are this late in the season. They have gone from ten games below .500 a week into June to holding tightly to a wild card spot and still in contention for the division title a week into September.
And after a bump in the road – in the form of three straight losses at home against the Diamondbacks – the Cubs hold firm in their belief that that same consistency will keep these three games from turning into a late-season skid that dashes playoff dreams.
“We went through some struggles and challenges early in the year, but this is a resilient bunch,” Dansby Swanson said. “We’ve proven time and time again that we will bounce back.”
On Saturday, the Cubs lost 3-2 in extra innings, despite yet another brilliant performance from Justin Steele. The ERA league leader (at 2.49) spread six hits across seven innings and only gave up a run, posting his 20th quality start in 27 outings this season. He’s making his case for National League Cy Young hard to ignore.
But on offense, the Cubs’ bats scuffled for the third day in a row. Facing Merrill Kelly, they put together plenty of quality at-bats, drawing five walks against a starter who normally doesn’t have issues with his command, but they lacked the timely hit.
The only run the Cubs scored before the tenth inning was manufactured almost entirely by Nico Hoerner. With one out in the third, he bunted for a single to give the Cubs their first hit of the game. After Ian Happ struck out, Cody Bellinger hit a two-out pop-up to second baseman Ketel Marte that looked fairly routine for the third out. But as a play like that dictates, the runner should keep going around the bases, just in case. Marte lost the ball – cloudless skies and a good wind blowing in from the lake will do that – and Hoerner was able to score from first.
After that, the Cubs got a handful of baserunners, but only once created a real scoring threat. They loaded the bases in the sixth inning, but again were left wanting for the timely hit. Ultimately, Daniel Palencia’s wobbly tenth inning performance was the difference. He hit Jordan Lawlar, the second batter of the inning, which put Arizona runners on first and third with one out. After a couple of bounced pitches and a single from Tommy Pham, Gabriel Moreno and Lawlar both scored to put the Diamondbacks ahead, 3-1. The Cubs would bring home free runner Mike Tauchman in the bottom of the tenth, but Swanson popped up behind the plate to end the game.
“These games have been competitive, it’s not like it’s something where we’re just laying down,
Swanson said. “We’ve put a lot of effort in, it just hasn’t happened for us.”
At another time in the season, a stretch of three losses might not raise alarm, but so late in the year and facing a team that’s right behind them in the wild card standings, the margin for error suddenly feels very slim.
“I know it may feel a little bit hard with a team that’s chasing you coming in here for four games [and] beating you for three,” David Ross said. “I get all that, but we’re a really good team. I think just staying true to believing in that. This group hasn’t wavered all year. I doubt they will.”
Ross credits his club’s diligence with how they have gone about their business for where they are now in the standings. Especially after how bad things looked a few months ago. He has said all season that the guys in the locker room have never gotten overly rattled by bad losses, tough losses, or rocky stretches in the schedule. And he’s saying now, with less than 20 games left in the regular season, that hiccups are to be expected, so he and his group are not worried.
“As a whole, I don’t feel like we were just going to roll to the end of the season without any bumps in the road,” he said. “I don’t think we’re playing bad baseball, we’re just not getting the key hit when we need it, and that comes and goes sometimes.”
The Cubs have Sunday’s game at Wrigley to salvage a win to end this homestand before they head out west to Colorado and Arizona. They currently sit a game ahead of the Diamondbacks for the second wild card spot, but only two and three games in front of the Marlins and Reds for a chance at the postseason.
“We’ve got to stay confident, we’ve got to trust in our plan and our process,” Ross said. “We’ve got a long way to go, still have a lot of games left.
“And I think a bump in the road was probably expected. We weren’t just going to roll all the way to the end.”
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