SAN FRANCISCO – Cubs manager Joe Maddon doesn’t consider these series measuring sticks, litmus tests or anything else so conclusive.
Cardinals? Pirates? Nationals? It’s about the feel at this point in the season.
“The big thing is I wanted to feel the Giants right now,” Maddon said.
And they felt the Giants this weekend at AT&T Park.
Most of what they felt as they left San Francisco after Sunday night’s 1-0 loss was bruised once (Jason Heyward), beaten twice (Saturday and Sunday) and aching for the days when four runs was considered an off night offensively.
On this night, it was all about Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ ace, who pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and drove in the only run of the game with a fifth-inning double off Kyle Hendricks (after a leadoff walk).
And despite losing the weekend series to the NL West-leading Giants – winners of 10 of 11 games and three of the last six World Series – Maddon called this feel test a good one.
“I think we match up well. We can play against these guys,” said Maddon, whose Vegas-favorite Cubs may have to do that in October to get to the World Series. “We’re there; they’re there. I know they feel they could beat us, and I feel we could beat them, too.”
But this much was clear, at least for this moment in May: If the Cubs were the best team in baseball coming in, they weren’t the best team in the Bay Area the last few days.
“I want to be the best team in baseball after the last game’s been played,” said Maddon, whose team lost for the fifth time in seven games and seventh in 11 – two of the losses by 1-0 scores in a stretch of diminished offensive production.
“For right now, mission accomplished as far as getting off to a good start. That’s good, really good actually,” he said. “Now you’re attempting to sustain that over a period of time.”
As Anthony Rizzo said after Saturday night’s loss: “If anyone thought we were going to win 140 games, I want to know what they’re taking.”
The Cubs head to St. Louis next for a second feel of the perennial NL Central contenders.
But until then, the Giants at least delivered a shot over the Cubs’ bow in the only series between the teams until a four-gamer at Wrigley Field in September.
In addition to Bumgarner’s heroics for the Giants, five different players pulled off highlight-reel fielding plays – including center fielder Denard Span’s back-pedaling, falling catch on the warning track of Ben Zobrist’s bolt leading off the ninth.
Granted, the Cubs played all but one inning of this series without the services of $184 million right fielder Heyward, who suffered a bad bruise in his hip and rib cage area after a sliding catch, into the wall Friday night.
But consider the Giants won this series without using two of their top three starting pitchers (Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija). And one of their top two hitters, Hunter Pence, was sidelined with a sore hamstring in both Giants wins.
Best team in baseball?
“I think the more accurate term is ‘best team in baseball right now,’ “ said Kris Bryant, who homered twice in the series. “I’m sure if you ask those guys over there, they’re going to say they’re the best. And we’re going to say we’re the best. You can certainly say they’ve been the best over [11 games].
“You find out who the best team in baseball is at the end of the year.”