As Cubdom dusts itself off, licks its wounds and begins to pick up the pieces after Wednesday’s doubleheader destruction at the hands of the lowly Padres, it might help to keep the following in mind:
It is possible for a major league baseball team to rise from the ashes of a two-game losing streak and go on to have a terrific season.
Yet quite true. Like crotch-grabs on the field and drunken bros in the stands, losing streaks are unpleasant but also — even for the very best teams — unavoidable.
“We don’t like it,” manager Joe Maddon said, “but it’s probably inevitable during the course of a baseball season that you may lose two games in a row.”
Needless to say, ending losing streaks as quickly as possible is one of the keys to the whole operation. That’s what the Cubs will try to do Friday against the Pirates in the first of a three-game series at Wrigley Field.
A victory would forestall the Cubs’ first three-game slide of the season, which would be pretty remarkable considering we’re two weeks into May.
A third straight “L” wouldn’t really be a big deal, but it might feel strange and uncomfortable to fans who have witnessed the Cubs’ best 33-game start — 25-8, even after Wednesday — in more than a century. The World Series champion 1907 Cubs were 26-7, which included a 5-2 mark against the Brooklyn Superbas and the Boston Doves (but you knew that already).
These Cubs made it deeper into the season without losing back-to-back games than any team since the 1929 Philadelphia A’s. And they certainly have blown away the win-loss performances, through 33 games, of any Cubs playoff teams of recent vintage.
Last year’s Cubs started 18-15. The 2008 squad was 19-14. In 2007 (16-17), 2003 (18-15), 1998 (18-15), 1989 (17-16) and 1984 (19-14), there really wasn’t a whole lot of early-season excitement. Spring was in the air, but not the sweet stench of potential World Series glory.
The 1945 Cubs, the franchise’s last team to make the World Series, started 17-15. The 1908 Cubs — everyone knows what they accomplished — were 21-12. Even the 1906 Cubs, who still own the best regular-season winning percentage (.763) in major league history, were 24-9.
And every one of the 10 Cubs playoff teams mentioned in the previous two paragraphs had at least one losing streak before the end of April.
Indeed, that’s a very long way to say: Everything’s OK.
Of course, the truth is it’s better than OK. It’s nearly better than ever. The Cubs still have the best record in baseball and, arguably, even better statistics and performance trends to go with it.
My personal favorite: The Cubs’ starting pitchers have gone at least five innings in every outing — 33-for-33 — a first for the franchise through this many games in over a century.
But let’s get back to losing streaks, slumps, runs of bad luck, whatever you want to call them. Even the best teams — and these Cubs clearly fit in that category — have significant margins for error.
Before last season’s Royals won the World Series, they foundered through an 11-17 September. The 2014 champion Giants had 10 separate losing streaks of at least three games.
So the Cubs are staring their first three-gamer in the face — again, no big deal. And even if they nip this first losing streak in the bud right away, the next one will be right around the corner.
Just ask the 1888 Cubs, who …
Kidding. History lesson over.
Up: John Lackey took a tough 1-0 loss against the Padres on Wednesday, but he continued his masterful work at Wrigley Field, striking out seven and issuing zero walks over eight innings. Lackey’s ERA in four starts at home is a tidy 2.12.
Down: Reliever Justin Grimm was Mr. Reliable in April, but his ERA has more than doubled to 5.40 since the start of May. In six May appearances, the right-hander’s ERA is an unsightly 9.64. Maddon might soon have to re-examine Grimm’s role as the team’s “mid-innings closer.”
Up: Addison Russell didn’t play in the second game of Wednesday’s doubleheader, but perhaps he should have. The 22-year-old shortstop is on fire at the plate, with a .467 on-base percentage over his last 13 games. He has 11 hits and eight RBIs in his last five games.
1 THROUGH 9
1. Cubs: An 0-2 day against the lowly Padres isn’t the story. The four-game sweep of the Nationals on the heels of last week’s three-game sweep in Pittsburgh? Yeah, that’s still the story.
2. White Sox: Like the Cubs, they’ve dropped two straight. Like the Cubs, they have the best record in their league anyway. Oh, and about that Todd Frazier injury scare? Phew.
3. Mets: Please say you saw a replay of 42-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon’s first-ever home-run trot around the bases. Eat his dust, Yoenis Cespedes.
4. Orioles: No. 1 in the A.L. in home runs. No. 2 in batting average. But only No. 5 in runs scored. If the O’s bring that third number in line with the first two, look out.
5. Nationals: So Max Scherzer struck out 20 in a game? Who does he think he is, Kid Wood?
6. Mariners: Nineteen victories in their last 26 games? Maybe they should be higher on this list. Robinson Cano is mashing everything he sees.
7. Red Sox: Here’s your best-hitting team in baseball, with five regulars — Xander Bogaerts, Travis Shaw, Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz — all north of .300.
8. Rangers: Sox fans got a feel this week for the danger this team poses. The Rangers hung 23 runs on the South Siders in three games.
9. Pirates: They’d love to exact some revenge on the Cubs this weekend. After that, the schedule gets very friendly for Clint Hurdle’s club.
AND ANOTHER THING
The Cubs are 12-5 at home, 13-3 on the road. It’s rare, though hardly unheard-of, for a team to finish with a better road mark. If the Cubs’ upcoming trip — a 10-gamer to Milwaukee, San Francisco and St. Louis, beginning next week — goes swimmingly, though, it’ll get the imagination going.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.