‘Stay in the fight’: The Cubs’ rallying cry as they work to turn the season around
It’s not over until it’s over.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Choose whichever cliche you’d like.
The Cubs are forming their own rallying cry as they work to climb up a weak division and firmly implant themselves in the playoff race: “Stay in the fight.”
After another big victory Friday over one of baseball’s best teams (Orioles), the Cubs have now rattled off 4 straight wins and sit at 32-37 on the season.
They would obviously like that overall record to be better but they have the best run differential in the division (+11) and woke up Friday morning just 3.5 games out of 1st place after sweeping the Pirates out of Wrigley this week.
“We’re resilient,” Dansby Swanson said. “I think at times when things aren’t going good, it’s very easy to just tuck your tail and I feel like we’ve responded well this past week.”
This 4-game winning streak ties the Cubs’ season high (also accomplished April 16-19) but even with this run, the team is still 18-27 since April 27.
They know one good stretch won’t be enough. They have to play consistent, quality baseball for a long time to climb out of the hole they built over that six-week stretch.
But during that tough stretch, the Cubs understood they just had to wait it out until things turned.
“Stay in the fight.”
The Cubs got out to a 14-10 start to the season during an impressive first month. The lineup was firing on all cylinders, the starting rotation was bordering on elite and the bullpen was holding its own.
In April, the Cubs won series against playoff-contending teams like the Rangers, Mariners, Dodgers and Padres. It gave this team the confidence that they could be competing for the postseason after a pair of rebuilding years.
And so during the tough stretch, they kept telling themselves that there is a lot of season left and things can turn around — they just had to stay in the fight.
“You have to take it with a bird’s eye view sometimes,” Swanson said. “Like, hey, we’re not playing good right now but you always have to stay in the fight. You always gotta show up every day to compete and good things will start to happen.
“I think just a little bit of that adjustment in mindset has been good. It’s gotten everybody on the same page — no matter who you are, where you hit, when you come in the game to pitch, we’re all after the same thing.”
Swanson knows what he’s talking about. He was a huge part of the 2021 Braves that won the World Series even though they started August with a losing record (52-55).
Yan Gomes shares a similar perspective. He was the catcher on the 2019 Nationals that won it all despite beginning the season with a 19-31 record.
David Ross recently spoke with the pair of veterans about their respective experiences and formed a message to his team.
“It’s a really long way to go still,” Ross said. “We roll off 10 in a row at some point like some teams do or don’t. There’s nobody that can predict the future. My takeaway from that [conversation] is it’s what I’ve always known and what I try to tell you guys and we can read outside narratives or narratives can get created.
“But the fact is you stay true to your processes and work hard to get better every single day. I’ve talked about that since I’ve been the manager here — try to improve on the daily and keep the focus on winning every single night. The stuff pans out in the end.
“As we continue to get more talented players, guys establish themselves as big leaguers and continue to trust in the process, good things are going to happen. I believe that. It’s a winning group in there and a talented group.”
The Cubs are in the midst of their best week-long stretch of baseball in nearly two months and the roster has been reinforced with the return — and return to form — of some key players.
Cody Bellinger came off the IL Thursday after missing a month with a knee injury. Justin Steele will take the ball Saturday for his first start in two-and-a-half weeks after an elbow injury forced him to the shelf.
Kyle Hendricks picked up his second straight win Friday and looks a lot more like the stabilizing force he had been in the Cubs rotation before a pair of inconsistent and injury-marred seasons in 2021-22.
Hendricks admitted after Friday’s start that the Cubs feel a sense of urgency to win now and turn their season around before it’s too late. It’s only mid-June and the Cubs have 93 games remaining on the schedule but the trade deadline is six-and-a-half weeks away and Jed Hoyer’s front office needs to know whether they’re buying or selling or standing pat with this group.
Which made the sweep of the 1st-place Pirates this week even more important. The Cubs have benefitted from a weak division and are fortunate that they didn’t fall too far out of the race during their six-week downturn.
The Cubs were able to pick up 3 games in the division race with that sweep of Pittsburgh and will take on the NL Central leaders next week again. But the team maintains they do not view the games with the Pirates as anything more important than a win over the Orioles.
All that matters is how they play as a team.
“It’s one game at a time and playing with that mindset,” Ian Happ said. “The ability to go out there every single day and have the same mindset that you’re going to play really consistent, really good baseball is what the good teams do. The great teams don’t care who they’re playing — they just go play good baseball.”
That’s the message Ross has tried to instill in this team since he signed in Chicago before the 2015 season.
Don’t ask the Cubs manager if he thinks beating the Pirates or another divisional foe is more important than piling up wins against opponents. And he doesn’t believe the Cubs all the sudden needed to simply flip a switch now that the calendar is displaying mid-June.
“It never doesn’t feel like ‘go time’ for me,” Ross said. “I don’t know what else to say. I wanna win ’em all.”