NEW YORK – No big deal? It’s only June or July? These losses don’t matter because they’re not “big boy” games like the ones in October?
Don’t believe it. This rematch in New York mattered to the Cubs.
And when the Mets re-enacted last fall’s playoff sweep with an unlikely four-game, weekend sweep over the Cubs at Citi Field it came with a familiar look, and sting.
And it mattered.
“Obviously, we probably were too excited about playing them again and kind of [looking for] revenge for what happened in the playoffs,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “Which I don’t think’s the smart thing to do. You’ve just got to play your game and forget. It’s already over.”
If any of the Cubs had forgotten what it was like playing the Mets in New York last fall, they were painfully reminded by the time Jon Lester was clobbered for eight quick runs in a 14-3 loss Sunday that finished off the worst series the Cubs have played this season.
Even before Sunday’s game, manager Joe Maddon said the series felt familiar, mostly because of the Cubs’ inability to handle the Mets’ power pitching.
And more than revenge, pride or any other emotion, that’s what makes the Cubs’ lost-in-New-York weekend significant.
The Cubs are without leadoff man Dexter Fowler (hamstring) and a couple other injured hitters, but their on-base production has declined steadily since a torrid April – despite the continued presences of heart-of-the-order hitters Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and big-money, veteran imports Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.
“We’re not at our normal `depth-con’ right now. If we had been playing with full gorilla mode, I’d be a little bit more concerned probably,” Maddon said of a team that has lost 10 of 14 – 10 of 11 in that stretch against teams with winning records, and good pitching.
Even if Sunday’s rout – the second in three games against the Mets – could be written off as an aberration, the Cubs’ MLB-leading starting rotation got beat up by a depleted Mets lineup that ranks among the worst in baseball.
The Mets had scored three runs in 30 innings until its winning three-run rally in the seventh to win Game 1 of the series on Thursday.
The rotation’s ERA jumped 34 points (to 2.88) in just the next three days as Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Lester all struggled.
The Cubs hit the midpoint mark of the season Sunday still clinging by percentage points to the best record in baseball and still on pace to win 102 games.
But they haven’t been the best team in baseball in at least a month – going just 12-15 in their last 27, with series losses to potential playoff foes Washington, St. Louis, Miami and the Mets along the way.
“We’re confident. We’re fine,” said Lester, who recorded just four outs in the shortest start of his career. “It’s not a matter of anybody in this clubhouse panicking by any means.
“Let’s be honest; we weren’t going to be on that pace that we were on for an entire season. It’s a long year, and there’s lots of things that can happen. And you’re seeing that now.”
Sunday things got so out of hand so fast that:
- Light-hitting Wilmer Flores added 31 points to his batting average in one day by going 6-for-6, with his fourth and fifth homers of the season.
- Lester added 64 points to an ERA that ranked second in the majors when the day began (now 2.67),
- A kid making his major league debut, Jeimer Candelario, at third base for the Cubs saw a 100-mph fastball for his first big-league pitch and struck out twice before delivering his first big-league hit against the same pitcher (Noah Syndergaard) in the seventh inning. “A guy throwing that hard, and you’ve just got to try to not do too much,” said Candelario, who was called up Sunday when Chris Coghlan (rib cage) was placed on the DL. “It was exciting.”
- At one point in the eighth, a relief-pitching catcher (Montero) faced a pinch-hitting pitcher (Jacob deGrom). “I didn’t walk anybody,” Montero said of what might have been the most impressive Cub accomplishment of the day.
- The Cubs got a hit with a man in scoring position for the first time in the series, in the first inning, only to go 1-for-10 in that situation the rest of the game (2-for-29 in series).
“It’s terrible. It’s just bad,” said Montero, whose team was outscored 32-11 in the series. “I mean they [out]played us, simple as that. We didn’t play good enough. We didn’t hit good enough. We didn’t pitch good enough. Overall, we were sloppy.
“Overall, it wasn’t really a good road trip,” he added of a 4-7 trip through Miami, Cincinnati and New York. “We expect a lot more from ourselves. It’s something we’ve got to forget about. There’s still a lot of season left.”
An entire second half. Including a week before the All-Star break to start to heal up.
“I’m not upset or concerned,” said Maddon, who talked about easily forgetting Sunday’s game. “We’re going to continue to get better. We’re going to get on another good run – I’m certain of that.
“In the meantime, the biggest thing is to hold serve. And if you look at our record right now overall, it’s pretty good.”