Cubs

Cubs think their resiliency could pay off in playoff race

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Cubs think their resiliency could pay off in playoff race

The Cubs believe they have the players to grow their early-season success into a legitimate playoff run. The first wave of talent is here, the roster is sprinkled with veterans and Jon Lester — despite his early-season mediocrity — is an established ace atop the rotation.

But it takes more than sheer talent to reach the playoffs, and the Cubs believe they have one of those inscrutable mental factors that should help them as the pressure builds in August and September. There’s a certain resilience the Cubs have captured through the season’s first two months, which showed up a few times on their recent road trip.

Before returning to Wrigley Field with a 6-3 win over Cincinnati Thursday night, the Cubs opened a lengthy road trip with a series loss to the lowly Marlins. That was followed by a series win over the stacked-on-paper Nationals, and after losing 6-0 to Detroit Tuesday, the Cubs followed with their biggest win (in terms of scoring margin) of the season.

“That’s what makes a difference between good teams and bad teams,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Bad teams, it carries over about what happened yesterday, good teams eliminate it.”

[MORE: Cubs get back to normal with re-opening of RF bleachers]

The Cubs haven’t lost more than two games in a row in over a month, have six walk-off wins and 14 wins when trailing after six innings. That kind of resiliency, Montero said, can be fostered with come-from-behind and dramatic wins, which leads to few extended losing streaks.

Manager Joe Maddon said it’s a trait not every team he’s been a part of has had.

“I’ve been on teams where I thought have been negatively impacted just by that, the fact that you just couldn’t drop it, you could not take that rock and drop it in the nearest lake,” Maddon said. “Just leave it alone, you don’t need it. You often hear me talk about I want to see how high we bounce after the fall. We’ve done pretty good.”

First baseman Anthony Rizzo agreed.

“No one really lets too many things affect them, whether it’s giving up runs, not having a good week, not having a good game,” Rizzo said. “We just play together and have fun together. You don’t see anyone really pouting too much and if he is or if someone is, we pick him up as a team.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

That bounce-back ability has certainly played into the Cubs’ 32-26 record after Thursday’s win, a mark that puts them squarely in the way-too-early wild card discussion. But it’s a less-than-quantifiable measure that doesn’t guarantee anything, and sometimes isn’t necessary to reaching the playoffs. Montero said the 2007 Diamondbacks team he played on — which reached the NLCS — didn’t have that belief it’d win every game, even though it won 90 games and the National League West.

But the Cubs don’t have a large margin for error this year, not with most of its core players having never experienced a pennant race. But the hope is the resilient attitude possessed by all these young players and experienced veterans — and, perhaps most importantly, by the manager — will play an important role if every pitch begins to matter come the late summer and early fall.

“Just don’t be bringing bad vibes into the clubhouse because we had a bad day the day before,” Maddon said. “I think that’s where a lot of groups go wrong, when you want to carry something negative or a defeat from the day before into the next day.

“Leave it in the past, man. It serves no really good purpose.”

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.