SAN DIEGO – It took all of two games in Southern California for the psychologists and comedians – not necessarily in that order – to descend on the curious, visiting the Cubs.
Over the last two days, sports psychologist Ken Ravizza of the Cubs’ new mental skills program, spent one-on-one time with the young infielders who erred Tuesday, the setup man who gave up the game-turning double and at least one .200-hitting outfielder.
By Thursday, actor/comedian Jeff Garlin was at manager Joe Maddon’s side for the daily pregame media session, and promoting the merits of David Ross as a key member of the Cubs’ bullpen.
“My favorite pitcher on the Cubs is David Ross,” said Cub-fan Garlin, calling the backup catcher “underused” as a reliever.
The Cubs have played only 40 games this season, but this is what it’s come to for the long-dormant team that is starting to catch the attention – and inspire the imaginations – of followers and would-be contributors across the country.
On this night it was promise of youth – a long-touted future that’s starting to flash in bright glimpses barely seven months after another last-place finish.
Home runs by rookies Kris Bryant and Addison Russell – teammates in the minors when the season started – staked the Cubs in their 3-0 victory Thursday over the San Diego Padres, securing a third consecutive series win – with Kyle Hendricks, last year’s rookie sensation, pitching a five-hit shutout.
“I definitely think we’re going in the right direction,” said Bryant, who takes a 10-game hitting streak into Phoenix in which he’s 13-for-33 (.394) with four homers and 11 RBIs. “We had some good at-bats – Addie had some great at-bats, with a single to right and obviously the homer.
“I definitely think that there’s better days to come, and we’re all excited for that.”
And struggling right-hander Hendricks (1-1) produced the Cubs’ first complete game and shutout of the season –and first of his career. he struck out seven without a walk in the five-hitter.
“Just one of those days where it finally clicked, man,” said Hendricks, who had one quality start in seven previous outings and reaching only six innings in that one. “I’m not going to say I needed it but I kind of did need it.”
Suddenly these intriguing North Side upstarts have won eight of 10 with the two-for-three week in San Diego and have significantly raised the national profile and celebrity Cub-fan attraction of a team that owns the fourth-best record in the National League
They still don’t have a hit with a man in scoring position since Friday – when it took at guy falling down in right field to get that last one. That’s 0-for-27 with men in scoring position since then as they head to Arizona for a weekend series.
And they don’t know what they’ll get on a given night from a cast of average to middling fielders (but no errors in a clean game this time) or a work-in-progress bullpen that wasn’t needed Thursday.
But with the kids flashing in wins like this, and with the rotation starting to go four deep in reliable innings, if Hendricks’ rediscovered form means anything?
“I think the needle’s pointing in the right direction,” Maddon said.