Even bad looks good to ‘perverse’ Cubs, who beat Bucs 1-0, snap skid

PITTSBURGH — Despite mounting injury issues and a tough series against the Pirates this week, the Cubs keep talking about the good in what seems bad — “in a perverse way,” as manager Joe Maddon likes to say.

With the Brewers looming on the schedule this weekend — 14 of the Cubs’ remaining 22 games at that point are against the Brewers and Cardinals — the Cubs are playing without their best starter (Jake Arrieta) for at least the next week or two and without their starting shortstop (Addison Russell) for possibly the rest of the month.

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After three straight losses, followed by eight innings of nothing against Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, the Cubs eked out a 1-0 win in the ninth Wednesday night at PNC Park.

Ian Happ's catch of Chris Stewart's drive to center for the first out of the third in Cubs' 1-0 victory over the Pirates Wednesday night.

“Our mindset’s good. We’re in a good spot,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said after the bullpen cost him a win Tuesday. “We know it’s going to be tough for us the rest of the way. But we’re good where we are right now.”

Good?

In a perverse way.

Since the Cubs turned a competitive corner in their rebuild two seasons ago, they have had more injuries, more distractions and four series lost to four different last-place teams since late May.

And here they are in first place and smiling. In fact, they’re the first defending World Series champions in seven years to lead their division on Labor Day the next season.

Some of that position of strength is the product of a cooperative -National League Central.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo suggests it’s no accident, that these survivor Cubs (so far, at least) also are a product of the last two years.

“We learned from 2015 how to control winning,” he said, standing not far from the spot he celebrated the Cubs’ champagne-soaked wild-card victory over the Pirates that year. “By then, by the finish line, by the time we were here with the emotion of the wild-card game, that emotional roller coaster, it wore us all out, and we all hit a wall.

“In ’16, we were way more prepared. We boat-raced, and everyone was asking, ‘Are you going to be able to do it?’ A few balls fell our way, and we did. Now everyone has the experience to know, ‘OK, we’ve had the outside noise of everything thrown at us.’ I don’t think in here you find much panic.”

The Cubs were almost injury-free the last two seasons, especially when it came to their pitching staff.

Maddon mentions the imminent return of catcher Willson Contreras (hamstring), who starts a brief rehab assignment Thursday. He mentions the “wonderful” luxury of Mike Montgomery being able to spell Arrieta (hamstring) for a stretch, and the laudable job Javy Baez has done in the absence of Russell (foot).

And he’s upbeat when talking about Ian Happ’s production.

“Short term, we’re still in a decent spot,” Maddon said. “But keep getting guys healthy.

“There’s three different roads that we’ve had over the last three years, and it’s good. It’s good to experience the different methods and understand that it’s not always going to be the same and that you’re going to meet with different resistance and you have to just fight through it. That’s what you do in life and in sports.

“I’m happy that the guys have responded the way they have because nobody is out there making excuses at all.”

Not even after getting throttled for eight innings by Cole, only to score the game-winner on Alex Avila’s two-out triple in the ninth.

“We’re in position to do it, and we all want it,” Rizzo said.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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