The Cubs’ 4-year-old rollercoaster is showing a little rust, but it’s still impossible to walk past the ticket window and not pay for at least one trip around the manic track. Every high point makes it seem like this group is finally getting it together and every bottomed-out low makes it seem like the season needs to be cancelled immediately.
After the first day in San Diego, everything was merry and the Cubs were headed for the playoffs. The next, every fan and blowhard Chicago journalist wanted to tear it down just because. I guess this is how things go for quasi-contenders who are in the Wild Card race, and technically still in the division race, after a somewhat disappointing season.
There’s always the hope that the bookends of the Padres series are what we see throughout the next 16 games and the Cubs catch fire and waltz on into the playoffs as NL Central champs. As hard as it is to believe given the way they’ve played, the Cubs still hold their destiny in their own hands. Which means it’s still possible they continue their inconsistency and go 8-8 to finish.
The Cubs are back at Wrigley for the last homestand of the year, 10 games that are key moments in the season, but also perhaps in the legacy of this era of the organization. Go on a run, jump those guys from Boringtown, and it’s possible to salvage a disjointed season. The alternative, well…let’s just not even think about that.
The Cubs won the opener in San Diego and the game looked more like Nico Hoerner’s coronation than what fans have been used to lately. Hoerner had several magic moments during the 10-2 romp and looked every bit the part of a major leaguer. Five Cubs had multi-hit games in the offensive explosion, setting everyone at ease for a night.
Not happy to rest on his laurels after a hit in his first at bat, Hoerner decided to add a two-RBI triple and another two-RBI later in the game. It was quite a night for a guy very few thought would even sniff the majors this season, but the Cubs’ inability to stay healthy gave him a shot that he was able to take advantage of.
In the second game, the Cubs infuriated fans who stayed up past the witching hour with a 9-8 heartbreaker that saw two double-bomb games go for naught.
Ben Zobrist was responsible for the first key moment when he committed a huge gaffe in the bottom of the 2nd inning that turned a 2-1 Cubs lead into a 4-2 deficit. Kris Bryant had huge home runs in the 5th and 8th (against a 100 mph fastball no less), Jason Heyward had a big fly in the 2nd and a game-tying bomb in the 8th. As big as those home runs were, they couldn’t make up for some shoddy pitching against a team that isn’t exactly the ’27 Yanks.
By now, you all know about what happened in the bottom of the 10th when Steve Cishek walked the world. While that move was dissected six ways from Sunday, the bottom line is that Joe Maddon went with who he trusted in a tight extra-inning affair. It probably wasn’t the right move, but with Rowan Wick already having thrown, Maddon probably didn’t feel good about anyone else coming in– especially if he wanted a ground ball to have a chance to turn two. Hindsight, as always, is 20/20 though, so we know it would have been better to get anyone in there to replace Cishek.
All that needs to be said from the third game is Anthony Rizzo did not score from third base after leading off the 2nd inning with a triple. While that was the only real opportunity the Cubs had to score all night, it set the tone for a game that saw all the Cubs struggle with Chris Paddack. Hey, any chance the Padres would wanna trade him to the Cubs in the offseason? Yea, probably not.
In the series finale, Rizzo (inserted into his rightful place in the lineup as the greatest leadoff hitter of all time for this game) walked to start the game. After a Nicholas Castellanos strikeout and a Kyle Schwarber walk, Bryant did essentially the same thing he did in the second inning the night before: hit a medium-deep fly ball with Rizzo on third base.This time, Rizzo tagged and trotted home without even a throw home to put the Cubs ahead with an early run.
Ian Happ’s two out, two run single in the top of the 4th inning gave Yu Darvish some breathing room and allowed him to settle in to a 14-K day. For a team who supposedly can’t hit with RISP, they seem to do it fairly well in wins. They just can’t do it in losses, hence the stereotype.
- Darvish. In his last three starts, the righty has thrown 19 IP, struck out 28 against just four walks, and given up just 10 hits and one run. One run. He is making a serious push for taking the ball in any kind of win-or-go-home scenario. Especially if it’s on the road.
- Heyward seems to have found his non-leadoff stroke again. After weeks toiling at the top of the order, Maddon made the long overdue move and Heyward went 6-for-13 in the series with five runs, four RBI, and two bombs.
- Hoerner, wunderkind. Called up for the series in Southern California, Hoerner responded about as well as you can expect from a guy who was still playing college ball last spring to respond. Five hits in 15 trips to the plate, including a triple and four RBI (all in his debut).
- Schwarber, Rizzo, and Castellanos had an underwhelming series, going a combined 8-for-52. The Cubs need these guys to do what they did throughout August, which is put up wRC+ numbers in the general vicinity of the 148, 165, and 178 they did for a month. Especially if Maddon is going to have these guys hit 1-2-3, they need to come up yuuuge the next three weeks.
- Zobrist’s arm. After two rough throws in back-to-back games, let’s hope Zo is able to make some plays at second, because the Cubs could certainly use his bat and presence in the lineup.
- Tony Kemp. The poor guy is 1 for his last 15 at the plate. Between getting jobbed by the umps and barely getting playing time, he’s probably wishing he were back in Houston. Except they DFAd him. Never mind.
- Willson Contreras. After going 6-for-8 in his first two games back from the hamstring injury, Contreras looked like he was primed to put the Cubs on his back. Since then, however, he’s gone 0-for-11 while playing sporadically.
Despite their struggles in waging war against mediocrity, the Cubs still have a chance to make the playoffs and to do something once they get there. Crazier things have happened, right? There were many, many years where the Cubs were well out of the postseason picture by September, so if you’re telling me there’s a chance, I’ll take it.
They have 10 games in a place they’ve played .662 ball all season long; win seven or eight and they should be in a position to fight for the NL Central crown in St. Louis over the last weekend of the season. The Cardinals and Brewers will beat each other up for three games while the Cubs play the Pirates, ergo sweeping the series would be optimal. Heck, sweeping the season would be super optimal.
Get. It. Done.