Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo mentioned again Sunday night how long the baseball season is.
Of course, he’s right. But that’s also part of the problem as the Cubs try to regroup once again from yet another lost series — this time to Atlanta after the 13-4 loss.
A lineup that looked historically bad the first two weeks of the season has shown the inevitable signs of life the last two games that have begun to settle the look of some of the ugly numbers.
But when ace Kyle Hendricks gives up four homers in the first inning to anybody — no matter what cold symptoms he might have had in recent days or how much down time he had for COVID-19 precautions — it’s as troubling as it is strange.
Especially when that makes two clunkers in three starts so far for the normally reliable veteran. And even more so when a remade rotation that brought a handful of questions into the season has looked shaky in other spots, too.
Rizzo doesn’t deny what the team has looked like in losing four consecutive series since the opening set against the Pirates, even as he seeks a balanced perspective after six consecutive winning seasons.
“It’s just part of it,” he said. “It’s going to be a long year. We know that. Even if we got off to a blazing hot start, it’s still going to be a long year. That’s the beauty of this game.”
Unless the pitching proves a curse. Or the lineup falls back into pressing mode — or gets blasted back into the ice age of its opening two weeks by Jacob deGrom on Thursday.
“We’ll sync these two sides up together,” manager David Ross said. “It’s nice to have back-to-back good offensive days. These guys put in a lot of work and it seems to be paying off.”
Through their first 13 games, the Cubs averaged just 2.6 runs a game, didn’t score more than five in any of them, hit .166 with a .307 slugging percentage and .568 OPS.
Saturday marked the latest into a season it took them to score at least six runs in a game in 40 years.
But they scored 13 and four the last two games, going 24-for-73 (.329) with a .388 on-base percentage, 14 extra-base hits (eight homers) and a 1.154 OPS.
It's stupid to think two games says much about the 147 games to come against 19 different opponents. But Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras and Rizzo — who homered twice Sunday — all are now hitting at least .250 with All-Star-level OPS’s at the 15-game mark.
And Javy Báez is back above the Mendoza line, with four homers and a team-leading 12 RBIs, despite an astounding 27 strikeouts.
And even frigid newcomer Joc Pederson got into the act Sunday with a walk and two hits, including a triple.
“In the beginning of the year, you always want to get off to the [Yermin] Mercedes, 8-for-8 start and be able to relax and just get those hits and all the firsts out of the way,” Rizzo said of what he called a natural tendency to press when the season starts.
“And this is still early. It’s still not even a full three weeks in,” he said. “It’s just human nature. You want to get off to a good start. The jitters are back, the fans are back. It’s just getting used to the whole atmosphere again.
“The last two days showed good life for our offense approach-wise and the way we were hitting the ball that is a good sign for things to come.”
The bats will probably be all right by the time the final results are written.
But they’re already lost eight of 11 since their 3-1 start. And at this rate, early is going to get late fast.
Especially if the trend continues with a rotation that has allowed 46 of the team’s 73 earned runs in 70 of its 132 innings (5.91 ERA vs. 3.92 for bullpen).
And especially for a front office that filled its roster with short-term assets that could take on the look of a well-stocked clearance rack by June.
It doesn’t get any easier after Monday’s day off, either — with deGrom’s Mets and the bullies from Milwaukee coming to town to finish this nine-game homestand.
So when exactly does it stop being early?