The Cubs are rising above adversity in an effort to turn the season around
The last time the Cubs left Wrigley Field, they were mired in a 5-game losing streak and about to head on a West Coast road trip with the first stop against the contending Padres.
Marcus Stroman had just been placed on the IL without a designation.
Kyle Hendricks was set to take the ball in the first game of the road trip but beyond that, the Cubs’ pitching probables list was a whole bunch of “TBD.”
Midway through the series in San Diego, the team lost Seiya Suzuki and Nico Hoerner to a pair of ankle injuries, with Hoerner’s landing him on the IL and Suzuki’s costing him 3 games.
On top of all that, the Cubs also lost their closer (David Robertson), starting second baseman (Nick Madrigal), platoon center fielder (Michael Hermosillo) and left-handed reliever (Sean Newcomb) to the Injured List.
Oh yeah, and Frank Schwindel was optioned down to Triple-A Iowa only to be brought right back up the next day amid the roster “mess,” as David Ross called it.
Yet the Cubs rose above all that adversity, winning back-to-back series for the first time all season.
The good times continued to roll Monday night, as the Cubs used an epic 1st inning to down the Pirates 9-0.
“Winning helps build confidence, which can translate into more wins and more confidence,” Ross said. “That’s a really powerful thing that we don’t talk about in our game.”
Monday’s win pushed the Cubs’ season record to 14-20, which is obviously still not where Ross or the team want to be. But taking home victories in 5 of the last 7 games is certainly a step in the right direction.
If the Cubs are going to completely turn their season around, now is the time to do it. Ross’ squad is currently in a stretch of 14 straight games against rebuilding teams (Diamondbacks, Pirates, Reds).
We’re about to find out what this team’s made of.
It’s also encouraging how the Cubs are compiling these wins.
Wade Miley threw 7 shutout innings against the Pirates, but if you blinked, you probably missed it — Miley was working that quickly.
Ross joked that Miley’s pace had an impact on catcher Yan Gomes.
“Yan I think is gonna have to work on his conditioning, how fast he can get into his catching crouch,” Ross said.
Miley’s outing Monday continued a stretch of strong performances from the Cubs starting staff over the last week-plus.
In that stretch, the Cubs rotation has compiled a 2.46 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 40.1 innings. The group has also added 3 quality starts, doubling the season total in that category.
“It’s cool to feed off of that,” Miley said. “[Justin] Steele punched out 10 yesterday in 6. What [Kyle Hendricks has] done the last couple outings, it’s been fun to watch.
“You just want to continue to keep that streak going and whoever’s next, get in there and do the same thing. That’s how you go on little runs and it’s fun to be a part of.”
And this has all been without Marcus Stroman, the big-ticket free agent starter who had his best outing of the year his last time out (7 shutout innings on May 1).
While Ross has obviously been pleased with the results, he’s also focusing on the process.
“I hope we just take it day-to-day, which I think these guys have done,” Ross said. “The one thing I’ve been most proud of with this group is through the losing and now the winning a little bit of two series, they just continue to come out and be themselves and play the same game every single night.
“I feel like we’ve been in a lot of games, haven’t gotten big hits. Finally started to get some of those on the last road trip, which has turned over. The starting pitching’s done better. I think it’s a group that’s just gonna go about their business on the daily and bring all that they have to win that day. That’s the most rewarding thing.”
Willson Contreras has been an offensive catalyst, including his 100th career home run Monday night. He is a bonafide star and has been easily the best offensive catcher in baseball this season.
He has also stepped up as a team leader this season and has been encouraged by what he’s seen in the dugout and clubhouse.
“I think we’re together,” he said. “The chemistry’s there. We’re sharing ideas. We are speaking to each other whenever we have to and that’s something that I love from this team. It’s been that way from Day 1.”
When the team went 0-5 on the previous homestand, Contreras admitted it was a frustrating stretch for the team, saying “losing sucks.”
But he and the rest of the team knew their fortunes had to turn eventually.
“It was tough,” Contreras said. “Baseball gives you the opportunity to come back the next day and play well. Even though we had a rough stretch, we never gave up. We held our head up and we just keep playing the best way we can.”