Cubs

Six in a row: The Cubs are feeling 'unbeatable'

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Six in a row: The Cubs are feeling 'unbeatable'

Joe Maddon thinks the Cubs have caught their second wind.

At this point, it's pretty much impossible to argue that.

The Cubs (64-48) pulled out their sixth straight victory Wednesday night, walking off the Milwaukee Brewers, 3-2, in front of 36,438 fans at Wrigley Field.

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After Hector Rondon blew a save by allowing an unearned run in the ninth, Miguel Montero ended it with an opposite-field blast to lead off the 10th inning.

Montero and the Cubs were on Cloud Nine in the clubhouse after the game.

"Right now, the feeling in the clubhouse is we're pretty unbeatable," Montero said. "... That's the kind of feeling that we actually get and hopefully it stays there and we keep believing it.

"We got a good ballclub. The young guys are just getting better and better. There's no reason why we should not win."

Before Tuesday night's game, Maddon spoke about how well the Cubs rookies have been playing, and they delivered again Wednesday as Kris Bryant homered and Addison Russell drove in a run with a two-out hit in the fifth inning.

Maddon said the Cubs were like a car that wouldn't quite turn over ("Like my old '65 Plymouth that Uncle Chuck used to drive all the time") coming out of the All-Star break.

"And then, eventually, it turns over, and all of a sudden, guys start feeling it a little bit," Maddon said. "I thought there was a certain amount of mental fatigue post-break. I think we're getting through that somewhat right now.

"And like I said, you put yourself in position, now it's the playoff hunt in September, energy just shows up. You don't have to look for it; it's there.

"So we're looking for that component that takes care of that, so that when you arrive at that moment, you're ready to rock and roll. That's what our guys are starting to get."

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The Cubs had only four hits Wednesday, but they made them count and played some stellar defense behind starter Jason Hammel and four relievers.

"There you go, man: Pitching and defense getting it done again," Maddon said. "I could not be more proud of our guys. ... If we don't play that kind of defense, we do not win it."

Anthony Rizzo made the highlight-reel play, jumping completely into the stands to make a catch in the sixth inning to ignite the crowd and the dugout ("Even old man David Ross was fired up," Rizzo said).

"These games are really helping us get into that strong mentality of, 'we can do this,'" Anthony Rizzo said. "Not that we haven't had that all year, but all year we've been grinding - five or six games over .500. Up to eight or nine [over], then go back down.

"We never really got into a nice little run. Right now, we feel that and everybody feels really good about it."

It was the Cubs' 12th win in their last 13 games. The Cubs gained a game on their direct competition Wednesday, pulling to within 1.5 games of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the first wild card spot and extending their lead to 4.5 games over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.

"I couldn't be more proud of this group," Maddon said. "Most of them are young, but they come to play. I think they've gone through that intimidation moment or that 'happy to be here moment.'

"I think they feel like they belong here right now and they're showing up with a good look."

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

As the Cubs got set to kick off the Crosstown series with the White Sox on the afternoon of June 18, GM Jed Hoyer emerged outside the third-base dugout and talked about a variety of topics regarding his team.

One such topic was the Cubs' ugly home-road splits and at the time, Hoyer said this about his team coming off a 2-5 road trip:

"It's been a source of frustration. I think we've had three subpar road trips. There's no other way to say it. It's not something I read too much into. This is a group that's had a lot of success on the road. They've won in hostile environments in the playoffs before, so it's not like they're intimidated by crowds or intimidated by travel. 

"But it's an issue with this particular group in 2019. we've played great here [at Wrigley Field]. We've played poorly on the road. If we want to reach our goals, then we're gonna have to play better on the road. All that said, we've had some really tough road series — starting out like that on the road was difficult. At Houston and at St. Louis was difficult and at Colorado and at LA — those were series that you're happy when that part of the schedule is done. 

"But there's no excuses — we have to play better on the road. I don't have any answers for it. I'd be lying to say that I really do, but I think it will change."

The issue is, it hasn't changed yet for the Cubs. 

That day was the start of a long homestand for the Cubs and the ensuing road trip — three games in Cincinnati, four in Pittsburgh and two on Chicago's South Side — didn't yield any better results for the team. They went 3-6 total, dropping their overall road record to 18-27 this season.

By comparison, the Cubs are a whopping 36-18 at "The Friendly Confines," including 7-2 over the past week-a-half.

They've enjoyed the benefit of home cooking for the last couple weeks, between the All-Star Break and a nine-game homestand to open the second half. But now they head back out on the road, with maybe their toughest task yet. 

The Cubs begin a three-game series in San Francisco Monday night against a Giants team that has been among the hottest in baseball over the last few weeks. Then there are stops in Milwaukee and St. Louis, against the two teams immediately behind the Cubs in the NL Central standings.

This will be a huge test for a Cubs team that hasn't won a series on the road since May 17-19 in Washington D.C.

"I don't feel anything different from the group," manager Joe Maddon said Sunday morning before his team's final home game of the month. "We've been through it before — it's not like it's an intimidation factor or an uncomfortable moment. I'm not getting that. We're just not playing as well. 

"I don't even know how much it's that the other teams have gotten better. I don't even know where this all comes together. But we're playing decently now. ...I want to believe that just playing better here coming out of the break that we have a better chance of starting out better on the road. We need to. To get where we want to be, we have to do that. On this coming trip, three really good foes and we gotta be on our best behavior."

Like Maddon said, they've done it before, including winning three of the four road games in the 2016 World Series, a wild Game 5 in D.C. in the 2017 NLDS and the list goes on and on.

During the previous four years under Maddon, the Cubs have posted a winning record on the road in each campaign:

2018 - 44-37
2017 - 44-37
2016 - 46-34
2015 - 48-33

In order to keep that streak going, the Cubs would have to go 23-13 on the road the rest of the way.

That's a tall order when there are still two trips each to St. Louis and Milwaukee on the schedule plus stops in Philadelphia, San Diego and a couple dates with the always-pesky Pirates in Pittsburgh.

"Obviously at home, we've won. We gotta start playing that same game on the road. It's as simple as that," Maddon said. "To get where we want to go, we have to become that road team that we've been in the past and there's no reason that we can't."

So what's been the biggest difference between the road Cubs and the home Cubs?

That would be the pitching.

On the road, the Cubs have a 4.97 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .267 with a .798 OPS. At home, those numbers drop significantly to a 3.36 ERA and .233 average and .684 OPS against.

Meanwhile, offensively, the Cubs are actually slightly more prolific on the road than they are at home.

Away from Wrigley, this lineup is scoring 5.27 runs per game while posting a .257 batting average and .798 OPS. At home, they're scoring 4.91 runs per game with a .254 batting average and .785 OPS.

In search of the culprit of the road pitching woes, the blame lies with some of the Cubs' top arms.

Kyle Hendricks has a 1.89 ERA at home and 5.44 mark on the road. Jon Lester sits at 2.95 at Wrigley and 5.09 outside of Chicago. Brandon Kintzler carries an 0.75 ERA at home, but that number jumps to 4.32 on the road. 

Only a few guys — Yu Darvish, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop — have better marks away from Wrigley than they do at home.

As the Cubs look to flip the script on the road, they'll send Alec Mills, Darvish and Lester to the mound in San Francisco against a Giants offense that ranks sixth in baseball in OPS (.833) in July.

"We came out of the break, we got a good rest and we're playing really good baseball right now on this homestand," Kyle Hendricks said. "So we're just trying to keep that momentum going on the road. Just not think about where we are and embrace it, keep playing the same baseball. It starts with us on the mound, making good pitches. Set the tone on the road, be aggressive the same way we've been doing here and hopefully turn that around."

Up until recently, Maddon didn't even realize his team had so many run prevention issues on the road.

"That's really strange for me," Maddon said. "I would not have guessed that. So apparently we need to be just a little tighter with the pitching side of things and keep what we're doing offensively. I didn't realize there was that much of disparity involved. I didn't break it down any deeper than that.

"...I know San Francisco has been on a nice run, but sounds like we need to pitch better on the road. That's what I got out of it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

Listen to Lee Smith's entire Hall of Fame induction speech in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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