LOS ANGELES — The Cubs started a 10-game trip Thursday night at Dodger Stadium looking to send a message to the front office by the time they finish that they’re worth a significant investment at next month’s trade deadline.
“It’s going to take more than this road trip,” said left fielder Joc Pederson, whose last game on this field before Thursday was the World Series championship clincher for the Dodgers last October. “It’s showing them every day that we’re doing the little things and that we’re ready to be a playoff team to compete.”
If one day in late June means anything, message accomplished.
It was delivered with six no-hit innings from Zach Davies and a bullpen that has been so good this season that three guys who “had no idea” a no-hitter was intact finished it off for the first combined no-hitter in franchise history.
It’s not even halfway through a 162-game season. And these guys weren’t exactly anybody’s preseason favorites to do much of anything.
But a team that defied odds and “experts” alike with a monster May after a miserable April — then continued to defy reason during a June gauntlet made tougher by injuries — won’t go away.
Whether the Brewers, Cardinals — or even a Cubs ownership that compelled that salary-dump trade of Yu Darvish — wants them to or not.
They improved to 12-10 during a June that looks like the toughest stretch of contenders and pitching they'll see all season.
And whether one night in June ever represents anything this team accomplishes this season, on this night the Cubs reclaimed a share of first place in the National Central, clinched the season series against the defending champs and 2021 favorites — and maybe even suggested Davies is more than a soft-tossing booby prize for Darvish.
Make no mistake: The Cubs still need starting pitching at the deadline to be factors in the National League field in October.
But Davies has pitched well against the Dodgers before this night, and despite five walks and a pitch count that led to his exit, he navigated a lineup that had three former MVPs in it — including 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger and $365-million, 2018 MVP Mookie Betts.
The Cubs already had a bullpen with a major-league-leading 2.63 ERA, along with a record of 33-2 when leading after five, 34-1 when leading after six, and a closer back on a Hall of Fame track.
And for all the no-hitters being thrown this year — seven already ties the MLB post-19th-century record — this was the only one of the seven thrown against a team that didn’t field a no-hit lineup.
The six others all came against the same three teams: two each against the Mariners, Rangers and Cleveland.
“He just kept it out of the middle of the plate,” Betts said of Davies. “We chased, so you know he threw some really good pitches to make us chase. He’s not in the big leagues by accident.”
Davies also beat the contending Padres on the road this year with six scoreless innings. He hasn’t allowed a run to the Cardinals in two starts (11 2/3 innings). And in his last 11 starts, he’s 4-2 with a 2.69 ERA — 4-1, 1.66 in 10 if you remove the clunker against the Marlins Friday.
Asked if he was especially frustrated to be no-hit for six innings by a non-power pitcher like Davies, Betts said: “No, it’s just a style of pitching. He’s been around for a long time, and it’s not an accident. That’s what he does, and he did it really well today.”
Whether the front office is listening, the message the Cubs are trying to send with a pivotal 10-game trip has already begun.
On this night, the biggest message might have been that Davies can handle a spot in a playoff rotation for this team, given its robust bullpen — especially if a reliable power pitcher can be added to the rotation before the July 30 deadline, making Davies a potential back-end sleeper in a playoff mix.
“We’re in a tough stretch, and it’s against really good teams playing good baseball,” manager David Ross said before the game. “This road trip’s important, but if it doesn’t go well, we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got a long way to go.”
But if it does go well? Will that send a message to the front office?
“It’s not all about always sending messages to the front office,” Ross said. “If we just prove that we’re a good team, [which] we’ve proven, and can be a team that competes with the best of the best — I think we’ve proven that — and that when we’re healthy, we’re a really good team …
“I think the front office believes that already. I think they believed that coming into the season. We’ve proven it. We’ve just got to continue proving it.”