Cubs News

Cubs understand task in front of them: ‘We need to play a little bit better’

10 months agoTony Andracki

It was all lining up perfectly for the Cubs in the bottom of the 8th inning Monday night.

After a double steal, pinch-runner Miles Mastrobuoni represented the tying run at second base and pinch-hitter Mike Tauchman battled to a 2-2 count before hitting a hard line drive to center field.

The ball was clocked at 100.5 mph off the bat and carried a .790 expected batting average by Baseball Savant.

But instead of a game-tying hit, the ball nestled into the glove of Nationals centerfielder Alex Call and the Cubs’ hopes were dashed.

In many ways, that was the deciding moment of the Cubs’ 7-5 loss to the last-place Nationals Monday night.

Tauchman and the Cubs battled, but they came up just short and are off to a 1-3 start in the second half of the season as they try to climb back into the playoff race.

“We hit some balls on the nose today right at people,” Ian Happ said. “We need to play a little bit better. We’re close. We’re right there. But we need to have a good finish to the homestand and play some good baseball over the next six days here at home.”

There’s an old saying in baseball that it’s not about who you play, but when you play them. That’s been true for the Cubs of late, as they ran into the Phillies at the wrong time on the last homestand, when Philadelphia was settling into a groove.

And to kick off the post-All-Star-Break schedule, the Cubs had to contend with another hot team in the Boston Red Sox.

But the Cubs are also embarking on the softest part of their schedule with the Nationals and Cardinals in town, followed by a trip to play the White Sox and Cardinals on the road.

These next two weeks are a big reason why the Cubs have the easiest second-half schedule in the NL.

Yet they started off that stretch with a tough loss to Washington Monday night and the frustration was palpable within the postgame clubhouse.

The defeat dropped the Cubs to 7 games below .500 at 43-50 and 8.5 games behind the Brewers in the division with the trade deadline just over two weeks away.

“It’s tough when you’re 7-8 games back,” Happ said. “That’s the part that makes it tough. It’s not about time of the year. It’s about wanting to win games to be in the race and that’s what we’re all here to do.

“We’re all here not to put up individual numbers; we’re all here to win baseball games for this team and this organization so that we’re in it and have a chance to win the division and go to the playoffs. That’s what everybody in this clubhouse is trying to do. The thing that makes it frustrating is we’re not getting that done.”

The Cubs feel the sense of urgency and have acknowledged it for the last several weeks. They understand they need to win games to get back in the hunt.

On Monday, there were encouraging signs. Happ homered for the first time since June 24 and Patrick Wisdom connected on his 2nd longball of the homestand. The Cubs battled back after falling into early deficits but the pitching staff couldn’t make it hold up.

Veteran starter Drew Smyly picked up his 7th loss of the season by allowing 5 runs in 6 innings of work. After Happ’s 2-run homer pulled the Cubs within 2 runs in the 6th inning, rookie Daniel Palencia allowed a 2-run shot to Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz the following frame.

And the 8th inning rally came up short with Tauchman’s lineout.

“We’re a good team. We know we’re a good team,” Smyly said. “There’s a lot of talent in this league. It’s hard to just go do it night after night after night and be consistent. That’s not an excuse; it’s just a fact. We’re all trying our best. We’re all trying to get our best swing. I’m trying to make my best pitches.

“Sometimes you do make a good pitch and they hit it. Sometimes you hit a ball really hard and it’s right at ‘em. Tauchman had an amazing AB there in the 8th and hit a ball really hard right at him. Could’ve tied it up. As a player, I think all you can do is just keep your confidence high, believing in yourself, working and just know that it’s a long season and it will turn around.

“There’s gonna be slumps, there’s gonna be times where you’re just cruising and everything’s going your way.”

Smyly felt like everything was going his way early in the season. He had a 2.60 ERA through his first 10 starts and carried a 5-1 record into his outing on May 28.

But since then, he has put up a 6.85 ERA over his last 9 starts.

“Now I’ve obviously hit a little road bump and it seems like it’s really hard to get the ball to fall my way,” Smyly said. “But that’s baseball. You can’t say ‘poor me’ or make an excuse. You just have to keep going out there and trust that it’s gonna turn. That’s why we play 162 games.

“You’re gonna have rough patches and you’re gonna have really good games or months. And you’re gonna have a really bad month. We all just strive to put our head down and be the best we can each day.”

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