LOS ANGELES – Maybe the Cubs didn’t need a perfect game to beat Clayton Kershaw. But they definitely didn’t play a complete game against the National League’s reigning MVP/Cy Young Award winner.
The Cubs wrote off Friday night’s 4-1 loss at Dodger Stadium the same way they rationalized Thursday afternoon’s defeat against Madison Bumgarner and the defending World Series champs.
For all the talk about when the Cubs get to the playoffs – not if – the San Francisco Giants are now 4.5 games behind the Cubs for the second wild card.
“I absolutely love the fact that we went to school over the last two days,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We saw two of the top-five pitchers in all of baseball, possibly or probably or actually. We had a hard time, and that’s OK.
“I have no issues, man. I thought we fought and we played well and hard. It’s just a matter of we were schooled a little bit tonight, again. But that needs to happen for us to get better.”
The super-rich Dodgers have a major-league payroll north of $300 million and – according to the Los Angeles Times – are paying $86 million for players to not play for them this season. There’s no slow learning curve here. It’s win or else.
Kershaw (11-6, 2.24 ERA) shut down the Cubs for eight innings, allowing only one run, scattering three hits and finishing with 14 strikeouts, showing why he’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
“We knew this is Cy Young Week,” said Anthony Rizzo, who crushed Kershaw’s 94-mph fastball over the center-field wall in the fourth inning for his 26th home run. “We had (Corey) Kluber, (Jake) Peavy, Bumgarner’s a World Series MVP and now Kershaw’s just icing on top.
“This is good for us to taste this feeling of them kind of dominating us.”
“It’s just like: All right, pick your poison,” Miguel Montero said. “Fastball. Breaking ball. Curveball. Pick your poison.”
Jason Hammel (7-6, 3.42 ERA) looked sharper and felt stronger after what’s been a second-half fade. But he couldn’t match Kershaw’s brilliance, and the Cubs didn’t play flawless defense around him in front of 44,874.
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A tie game pivoted with Chase Utley’s leadoff walk in the sixth inning, Hammel’s two wild pitches and Montero’s throwing error to third base. The first-place Dodgers wound up scoring three runs during the kind of sequence that kills teams in October.
“Especially with Kershaw on the other side, you got to make sure that unforced errors don’t happen,” Hammel said. “And tonight, I put a couple extra guys on base for free and they made ‘em count.”
That’s the vibe around this team now, not too much outward frustration (though Maddon only let Hammel go five-plus innings) or stressing over the rookie wall. Move on.
The rest – Maddon meeting with Vin Scully in the press box, the iconic broadcaster announcing he will return for a 67th season and Jamie Foxx taking batting practice with the Cubs – is just noise.
The Cubs have still built a big enough cushion that they’re on a three-game losing streak and 19 games over .500 – with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta lined up for the next two nights at Dodger Stadium.
“Us getting schooled?” Rizzo said. “You could put those pitchers against the most veteran team out there and they’re still going to look like they’re taking people to school. But this is good. It’s a good test. It’s good for us to face this.”