Cubs

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

It’s no secret that the Cubs have had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Entering Monday’s game the Giants – the first of a nine-game road trip -- the Cubs held an 18-27 road record, 21st in all of baseball.

Things took a turn for the worse in that department on Monday night.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs called upon reliever Pedro Strop to shut down the Giants 3-4-5 hitters. Strop, who entered action with a 4.62 ERA in 29 appearances (5.40 in July), surrendered three runs on four hits – including three doubles. The end result was the Giants taking a 5-4 lead, ultimately the game’s final score.

While Strop’s outing will get the most face time due to it occurring in a high-leverage spot, the truth of the matter is that the Cubs struggled for much of Monday’s game. After taking an early 3-0 lead, they couldn’t pull away from the Giants, watching San Francisco slowly close the gap and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.

The Giants actually came close to tying the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, though Steve Cishek was able to work out of a first and second, one out jam to keep the Cubs ahead. Plus, before consecutive two out singles in the eighth inning – one being an RBI from Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs an insurance run, the Cubs offense went through a 1-for-15 drought that began with two outs in the third inning.

At the same time, Strop struggling again is quite concerning. The 34-year-old has been the team's most reliable reliever for the past five seasons, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in each campaign from 2014-18. However, he's in the midst of a forgettable month, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Strop also surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning Friday against the Padres, though the Cubs were able to bounce back and win. 

Between their road woes and Strop's rough July, Monday's game did nothing to alleviate concerns over two unsettling Cubs trends. If there's one positive to take away from the game, it's that the Cubs were six outs away from picking up their third road win in seven tries this month.

Moral victories count for little when a team is in a heated pennant race, though, especially since the Cardinals took down the Pirates Monday to cut the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 1.5 games. The Cubs have to find a way to get better on the road, and they have to find a way to get Strop back on track. Fortunately for the Cubs, there's still time to do both, as Strop pointed out postgame.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

American Legion Week has come at a perfect time for the Cubs

American Legion Week has come at a perfect time for the Cubs

If this was a movie and not real life, right now would be the montage with some classic song playing in the background while all the players get back in touch with their roots and regain their passion for the game.

Think of Rick Vaughn regaining his "Wild Thing" look and haircut or Billy Heywood and the Twins remembering how to have fun while "Runaround Sue" blares.

Joe Maddon and the Cubs are taking a page out of Hollywood and it just might be what the doctor ordered for this team.

A couple hours after Maddon and Anthony Rizzo and a few other players slid down the Williamsport hill on slabs of cardboard, the Cubs went out and won their first road series since Game of Thrones was on the air.

Sure, it was technically a neutral site, so not really a "true" road series win, but the Cubs will take what they can get at this point. 

Couple that with the beginning of "American Legion Week" at Wrigley Field Tuesday and the Cubs are really hammering home the point: This is a game — go play and have some fun.

That means players are forbidden from showing up to the clubhouse too early during this week and there is no batting practice. This is something Maddon has done every year and the Cubs are now 21-3 during American Legion Week after Tuesday night's 5-3 victory.

"September provides its own energy. August, man, you gotta find it sometimes," Maddon said. "We have taken 5,727 swings each — at least. Maybe it's 10,000, I don't know. I don't know how many throws they've made. I don't know how many videos they've looked at. I don't know how many data sheets they've read. By this time of the summer, it's gotta be at least 80 percent mental, 20 percent physical. Maybe 75/25. You get to this point, it's all mental over physical.

"You have to have that rested mind and body. So I think by picking this time of year to do this, they show up a little bit later, they don't feel compelled to do certain things that they feel like they may have to do to present the right image sometimes. A lot of this stuff is overplayed. A lot of it is eyewash. A lot of it is there to ameliorate others' concerns. Just do what's necessary.

"When hitters aren't hitting on the field, it's also about pitchers not standing in the outfield. It's also about coaches not hitting 1,000 fungoes. It's about when everybody's mind is fresher, you're gonna get a better product. I believe that."

Right now, Nicholas Castellanos is the poster boy for a loose/fun approach to the game and he went out and showed that again Tuesday night by homering in the first inning to give the Cubs an early lead. 

That initial lead didn't hold up, but the Cubs prevailed anyways, thanks in large part to big nights from Rizzo (two homers, a single and a walk) and Castellanos (two singles to go along with his first-inning blast). 

But for the newest Cub, it was just another "Opening Day."

After confirming he tells Maddon "Happy Opening Day" before each game, Castellanos refuted a reporter's claim that Tuesday is not Opening Day because the Cubs don't have an 0-0 record.

"That's only if you believe the record," Castellanos said. "It's kind of the mentality — if what has happened is a memory and what's going to happen is a thought, you're taking yourself out of right now. So in that case, every day is Opening Day."

Insert your favorite Bill and Ted GIF here. 

But Castellanos has a point and the Cubs have been feeding off his energy since he arrived at the beginning of the month. 

And it certainly helps to get a weeklong reminder of where these guys came from — the Little League fields to the American Legion ball where they just showed up and played and didn't have to worry about October or money or pressure.

"I wouldn't call it pressure," Castellanos said. "I would call it fun. This is awesome."

For the last couple months, Maddon has been preaching about how important it is for his team to take a deep breath and stop pressing or worrying about making mistakes.

What better way to drive that point home than getting in touch with their inner child?

"I remember American Legion Ball like yesterday, man," Maddon said, while giving props to Post 210 in Danville, Ill. and their trip to the American Legion World Series in North Carolina this week. "That was the summertime. That was coming home after installing fences with Richie and putting your uniform on, going down to 22nd street. There was no video, there was no analytics, there was no BP, there was no nothin'. 

"I mean, your coach couldn't throw BP, so we didn't have that, either. So you just went out and you put it on and you might've had the McDonald's burgers on the bench adn you went out and you played baseball and you played it really well."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Will the next 12 games determine the Cubs season?

bryzzo_top_cubs_of_all-time_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Will the next 12 games determine the Cubs season?

On this edition of the Sports Talk Live podcast, David Kaplan is joined by Hub Arkush, Mike Esposito and Jason Goch. The guys discuss whether or not the next 12 games will determine the Cubs season. (1:30) Plus how concerned should Cubs fans be with Cole Hamels? (4:15) And the panel discusses who would be the odd man out of the Cubs playoff rotation. (5:20) Plus would you choose to re-sign Nicholas Castellanos over another star? (8:00) Kyle Long apologizes for getting kicked out of practice last week. (11:45) The guys weigh in on the new trend of NFL players not playing at all in the preseason. (13:00) Plus the guys discuss an unlikely candidate to solve the Bears kicking issues. (15:30) Can Joakim Noah coexist with Lebron James? (16:30) The panel discuss whether or not the White Sox should bring back Ivan Nova next season and where does Jose Abreu fit in the rebuilding plans. (18:45) And Sox skipper Rick Renteria gives a strong response to all his social media critics. (20:40)

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: