Cubs keep building character as big series with Cardinals looms


Cubs keep building character as big series with Cardinals looms

The Cubs only had three hits Sunday afternoon, but that's all they needed.

The Cubs (44-36) continue to build their character and find ways to win with a slumping offense as they held on for a 2-0 win over the visiting Marlins (35-48) in front of 37,764 fans Sunday at Wrigley Field.

"We did well today," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I am not concerned about the offense. I know it's gonna show up. As long as you can pull some of this magical stuff out while you're waiting for the offense to come, I'll take it."

[MORE: Jorge Soler's return makes Cubs lineup 'thicker']

Following a stretch of offensive inefficiency (17 runs in 10 games), Kris Bryant and the Cubs exploded for seven runs in the first two innings Saturday. But after Bryant's grand slam with two outs in the second inning of that game, the Cubs have managed only three hits in the last 14-plus innings.

In the first inning of the series finale Sunday, Chris Coghlan drew a one-out walk (his 13th free pass in the last 11 games) and Bryant singled, moving Coghlan to third. Coghlan then came around to score on a wild pitch to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead that they held all game.

The Cubs now have a pair of 2-0 victories to go with a 1-0 win over the last week. It helps that Cubs starting pitchers have given up just five earned runs in the last 41.2 innings (1.08 ERA).

"It's gonna get better," Maddon said. "We're gonna hit. We're definitely gonna hit. You have to go through these stretches. It's obviously always good when you go through a stretch like this that you're able to win in spite of it.

"We'll take it. That's how this game ebbs and flows. You gotta pitch. The game could have been called 'pitching' instead of 'baseball.' So when you do that, you catch the ball, you do good things on the basepaths and play the entire game of baseball, then you have a chance to win under these circumstances."

Chris Denorfia led off the eighth with a pinch-hit double (just the Cubs' second hit in a stretch spanning more than 13 innings) and Coghlan drove him home with a two-out single to provide some insurance and account for the rest of the Cubs offense on the day.

Denorfia doesn't believe the youth and inexperience of the Cubs' lineup is the main culprit of the offensive issues right now.

"Every team goes through periods like this where the offense dries up a little bit," Denorfia said. "Our guys have been so good, all the young guys are learning on the fly and they're dealing with the ups and downs of any season.

"I think the course of the season to have moments like this where you kinda build your character a little bit and rely on the pitching when we have to, which has been outstanding."

Denorfia thinks all these close games are "fun," not taxing or exhausting.

"To be prepared for the postseason, you're going to need pressure games like this," he said. "The more experience we get with these, the more comfortable you are in these situations when that one at-bat or that one pitch means so much."

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One run was all Kyle Hendricks needed as he tossed 7.1 shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 3.82 on the season. The 25-year-old righty kept the Marlins at bay, allowing just five hits and a walk while striking out six.

Hendricks hasn't allowed a run in his last 15.1 innings and the Cubs are 9-0 all-time when he pitches at least seven innings.

The Cubs starting rotation has picked a good time to be clicking on all cylinders - even if the offense hasn't been - with the St. Louis Cardinals coming into town for a big four-game series before the Cubs' Crosstown matchup with the White Sox to close out the first half before the All-Star Break.

"We're just trying to play good baseball," Hendricks said. "We've been playing good lately. We're just trying to keep it rolling. The pitching staff, we've been doing our job, keeping the runs off the board of late and the offense has been providing just enough. ... We're excited about [the week ahead]."

The Cubs will enter play Monday in third place in the National League Central, 8.5 games behind the Cardinals, who have the best record in baseball at 53-28.

A strong showing during this seven-game stretch at Wrigley Field could do wonders for the Cubs' confidence heading into the All-Star Break.

Still, Maddon insists he isn't getting too carried away with looking at the big picture.

"I don't look in clumps. I try to stay with the daily approach," Maddon said. "I know you're supposed to be more concerned about winning within your division. I'm just concerned about winning every night. I know I get disagreed with on that a lot.

"But I want our guys to just really approach the day and that's it. Let's try to win. We won today's game ... So go ahead and enjoy the night, be a human being and then come back tomorrow and play again."

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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