The Cubs have reached such lofty heights so quickly this season that the guys in the front office have started referring to the Cubs as being “in a tree.”
“We’re going to stay up there as long as we can,” team president Theo Epstein said, “but we’re going to get down at some point.”
After all, nobody can play .800 baseball for six months, right? Doesn’t happen. Never has.
But exactly who will knock these guys out of their tree at this point is anybody’s guess – especially after the Cubs survived a late grand slam to beat the San Diego Padres 8-7 Tuesday night for their eighth consecutive victory.
They pushed their best-in-109-years start to 19 games over .500 and their lead in the National League Central to 8 ½ games over the second-place Pirates. And they head to May 11 without so much as losing back-to-back games this season.
“It’s all good vibes in here,” said shortstop Addison Russell, who doubled home a run in the second and tripled home two in the seventh.
But for all of the “inventive” pitching by Jon Lester (4-1) on a night without his curve or cutter and all the hits coming these days from the torrid Ben Zobrist, Epstein’s point was made even on a day the Cubs improved the best record in baseball.
Especially the way an easy-looking 8-3 game turned into a one-run nail-biter on the pinch-hit swing of Alex Dickerson off Adam Warren in the eighth.
“We’re thrilled with the start that we’ve gotten off to, but we’re not blinded by it,” Epstein said. “We know we’re in a stretch right now where winning seems far easier than it actually is, and we know there’s going to be a stretch – probably a long stretch – this year where winning even one game seems virtually impossible. That’s just the nature of baseball.”
Epstein’s front office remains on the lookout for roster help even as the Cubs continue the hottest start in the majors since the Detroit’s 1984 champs.
“We still have vulnerabilities,” he said. “We still have areas we need to get better. We still have challenges and more adversity to come. And we almost look forward to it, because that’s when you find out what you’re made of more so than during the good stretches like the one we’re in right now.”
Zobrist has been a big part of that stretch. The veteran second baseman followed his NL Player of the Week surge with a 4-for-4 Tuesday that included a pair of run-scoring hits.
During the eight-game winning streak, Zobrist is 13-for-29 (.448) with 17 RBIs.
“We’re excited, too,” he said “But it’s still early May, and we’ve just got to keep that in mind and remember every game is going to be tough, and we’ve got to battle every night.”
At 25-6 it hasn’t looked very tough very often.
“I think the time that we stop to have a pow-wow about it is probably the time that we start losing,” Zobrist said. “We just need to stay in the moment. The best things happen when you’re not over-thinking it.”
Here’s the thing, though: Even Zobrist, the veteran with the World Series ring and realistic outlook, can’t explain exactly why the Cubs can’t keep this up, except for the length of the season and what history says about that.
“I think we can definitely have some more streaks like this,” he said. “I don’t see that this is an aberration. I don’t see that this is something that we can’t continue to do in some way.”
Case in point? Even on a night Lester said his curve ball “stunk” and cutter was “hit and miss,” he fought through with his fastball to get through six innings with a 6-3 lead.
It was the 39th consecutive regular-season game, dating to September, that a Cubs starter has pitched at least five innings – longest in franchise history since a 41-game streak in 1926-27.
They’re also averaging a major-league-high 6.2 runs per game and are on pace to break the MLB record for drawing walks.
“Obviously, we can’t stay this hot all year long; it’s just such a long season,” Zobrist said. “We know we’re going to have down points. But it’s our ability to pick each other up. …”
He described the across-the-board contributions from all position areas, and the “super high” confidence that breeds.
And then he remembered that some teammates actually haven’t started well, including the top acquisition of the off-season, Jason Heyward.
“Gosh,” he said. “You just feel like there’s more. There’s more in the tank.”
Somebody might want to text Lester or John Lackey to see if they’ve got an extra deer stand and maybe some beef jerky to send up to the guys in that tree.
They might be up there for a while.