SAN DIEGO – Another city meant another round of hangover questions for Joe Maddon, this time the Cubs manager getting compared to John Wooden and Phil Jackson while his team is breaking down in all phases of the game.
“Everybody looks good when things are going well,” Maddon said during Wednesday’s pregame media session at Petco Park. “You’d like to see who looks good when things aren’t going so well, who’s able to maintain their sense of decorum and composure and basically don’t lose their minds.”
We’re about to find out. The defending World Series champs are a lot closer to that breaking point than anyone would have imagined during the banner-raising ceremony and ring presentations, ending an 0-for-6 West Coast trip with a 2-1 loss to the San Diego Padres.
There is no “Pyramid of Success” to follow or Zen Master around to fix this. The Cubs are clearly pressing and playing without the same confidence and crispness that had so many people thinking a dynasty along the lines of UCLA basketball or Jordan’s Bulls.
“There’s no magic potion,” Maddon said afterward. “We just got to keep going out there and playing. I believe in our guys, 100 percent, wholeheartedly. These are good, young players. They’ve shown it in the past. They’re going to show it to you again.”
Maybe the photos will trickle out later on social media, but several noticeable players in the visiting clubhouse weren’t wearing their “Anchorman” costumes and trying to match Maddon for the long flight back home to Chicago. The traveling press corps had essentially run out of different ways to ask the same question about the offensive spiral when Jason Heyward snapped at a reporter.
“It’s part of the game, so I’m not going to say anything negative,” Heyward said. “If you’re trying to get me to say anything negative, I’m not going to say it.”
OK, then, the Cubs needed an infield single to score their only run through seven innings against Luis Perdomo, a Rule 5 guy last year who came into the game with a 5.61 ERA, wasting a quality start from 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta.
The Cubs scored nine runs on this road trip – four off Clayton Kershaw, of all people – and went 3-for-40 with runners in scoring position against the surging Los Angeles Dodgers and last-place Padres.
“I feel like guys are battling,” said Anthony Rizzo, whose two hits through 22 at-bats in Southern California came against Kershaw. “It’s just that you grip that bat a little bit harder. And it’s not as easy – myself included – for all of us.
“The good thing is it means we’re due. The law of averages means we’re due for a big outbreak. And I think once it does come, we’ll be on for a while.”
Until then, the Cubs played with almost no margin for error against a franchise that’s tanking for the future, starting another Rule 5 pick (catcher Luis Torrens) who had never played above the Class-A level until this season. San Diego’s leadoff guy (Franchy Cordero) had been called up Memorial Day weekend to make his big-league debut and delivered the game-changing hit in the eighth inning, driving a 78-mph Koji Uehara pitch off the right-center field wall for a one-out triple.
Cordero scored the go-ahead run when Yangervis Solarte bounced a ball toward drawn-in second baseman Ian Happ, who popped up and made a high throw to Willson Contreras. Cordero slid safely through the catcher’s legs, the Cubs looking like a 25-27 team that needs Thursday’s day off to decompress and feels fortunate enough to be playing in a weakened NL Central.
Rest up, get away from it, blow off some team, whatever, because the St. Louis Cardinals are coming to Wrigleyville this weekend.
“From spring training to the last game of the year, you always have to keep the mindset of you never know what’s going to happen in a season,” Heyward said. “Don’t get too high. Don’t get too low.
“Look up and still be thankful we still got a chance to win our division.”