‘No excuses’: Cubs know what they need to do as tension mounts in playoff race
The last inning-and-a-half of Thursday night’s game might’ve perfectly summed up the last two weeks for the Cubs — a stretch in which they’ve gone 3-10 and seen their playoff hopes take a massive hit.
They mounted a late rally but uncharacteristic defensive miscues, coupled with a surprise outing from a trusted pitcher led to another loss at a time when they can’t afford them.
Thursday’s 8-6 loss to the Pirates was a tough pill to swallow not just because of the playoff implications, but also the way it happened.
“We didn’t play our style of baseball,” manager David Ross said matter-of-factly.
Their “style” has centered on pitching and defense. Both of which came up short Thursday night.
The Cubs allowed 8 runs to the second-worst offense in the National League and gifted them a pair of runs on a Dansby Swanson error in the 3rd inning. In the 9th, after trimming the deficit to 1 run, the normally reliable Julian Merryweather allowed a 3-run home run that stymied their comeback hopes.
“Guys that don’t make mistakes made mistakes,” Ross said. “That’s just where we’re at right now.”
When the Cubs were going well, their offense was clicking on all cylinders and that was buoyed by their surehandedness in the field and strong performances from their hurlers. Thursday, they were 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 runners, including in the 5th inning when they had runners at first and second to open the frame and failed to even advance either player.
“You’re expecting a big 2-out hit or first and second, nobody out and the heart of the order coming up,” Ross said. “Just gotta come through. Guys just missing balls, popping ‘em up a little bit. That’s just the story of baseball.”
So, how do they snap out of the funk?
“Play better,” Swanson said. “Play just more complete baseball from inning 1 to 9. Obviously, we’ve shown instances and innings throughout the last week-and-a-half, 2 weeks that we’re capable of doing it.
“It’s just a matter of doing it with a little more consistency.”
All season long, the Cubs have preached taking it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. That focus and mentality have never been more prevalent.
With 9 games to go, the Cubs are out of the playoff picture — they’re tied with Miami for the final Wild Card spot, but the Marlins own the tiebreaker. They wrap up their home slate at Wrigley Field against the lowly Rockies, who took 2 of 3 against the Cubs just last week in Colorado. The Cubs then finish the year with a 6-game road trip to Atlanta and Milwaukee.
“Sometimes trying harder and trying to do more actually works against you and just being able to soak in moments and be grateful for the opportunity,” Swanson said. “It can take a little bit of pressure off and just doing the thing of, ‘I gotta get this done’ to ‘I’m going to.’ And having a little bit of a switch in mentality.”
The Cubs aren’t worrying too much about Thursday’s game. A quick turnaround doesn’t afford them that luxury — and that’s probably for the best. They need to play clean defense and stack together timely hits if they hope to be playing beyond next Sunday.
“It’s time to put [up] wins,” Ross said. “No excuses, we gotta put [up] wins.”