Kyle Schwarber dressed in the next stall, glancing and listening at times, as Cubs rookie center fielder Albert Almora Jr. blamed himself for the outfield collision that knocked Almora and left fielder Kris Bryant to the ground briefly in the fifth inning of Monday’s 10-4 victory over the Reds.
Schwarber hasn’t played since the third game of the season because of another collision in left-center that left the young slugger with a season-ending knee injury.
And for a split-second Monday afternoon nobody watching could be blamed for flashing back to that moment in April as Almora ran over the National League’s home run leader while Bryant made the catch — especially when Bryant left the game in the bottom of the inning because of a bruised leg.
“I didn’t like it at all,” Maddon said. “We have to avoid that.”
Of course, the big thing, was that Bryant avoided serious injury; he would have stayed in the game if it had been close, Maddon said, and is expected back in the lineup Tuesday.
In fact, the opener of a three-game series against the hapless Reds had a lot more to do with getting healthy for the Cubs as they opened the second half of the season with their 52nd win.
The Cubs had lost 10 of 14 games – including four straight – after getting swept by the Mets over the weekend in New York.
“We have a lot going for us, and we have a lot to lose out on if we don’t minimize these stretches,” right fielder Jason Heyward said of the importance of snapping the losing streak.
But then good health in the National League Central standings often comes to town when the Reds do, especially for the Cubs – who are 10-1 against Cincinnati this year, including a no-hitter (by Jake Arrieta in April) and a history-making, three-homer, two-double performance by Bryant last week.
Four of the Cubs’ five wins in the last 15 days have come against the woebegone Reds, who on this day fired their pitching coach (one-time Cubs pitching coach Mark Riggins) before the game and then sent raw left-hander/meat Cody Reed to the mound for his fourth career start – and second beat-down by the Cubs in six days.
Can’t beat the Marlins? Can’t beat the Mets? At least the Cubs can beat the Reds.
“It’s better than not beating the Reds,” Maddon said.
Maybe the Cubs could put that on a T-shirt for the next eight times they face these guys on the way to October.
For the rest of the schedule, in the near-term at least, they’ll do well to stick to the “Try Not to Suck” version as they try to weather a midseason rough spot while waiting for a handful players to return from the disabled list.
On a day Maddon gave veteran Ben Zobrist the holiday off, the entire Cubs starting lineup Monday was 26 or younger, including three rookies – one of which (Willson Contreras) homered, one of which (Jeimer Candelario) walked twice and one of which ran over the league’s early MVP favorite.
“I gave him like 15,000 hugs,” Almora said, “and apologized every time.”
Even Schwarber seemed to like that one, glancing over toward Almora and smiling before grabbing his backpack and heading away with a slight limp.
All good. That seemed to be the theme of the day Monday – if not another next T-shirt.
The Cubs’ torrid start to the season has put them in position to “absorb” this inevitable down “moment,” as Maddon has said repeatedly in the last few days.
Another good outing by Kyle Hendricks – who goes to the All-Star break with a 7-6 record and top-10 ERA in the league (2.61) – made things look easy on Monday and helped ease the sting of New York.
And even as he was dropped from the No. 2 spot in the order to No. 6 on Monday, Heyward made the recent beatings in Miami and New York sound like positives.
“Because right now it’s a good opportunity to see how we respond to things like that,” he said, “and not just have things go our way the whole time.
“In the position we’re in right now that we’ve worked hard to get to, with where the division standings are, it’s a good opportunity to make some adjustments for ourselves against the game. And that’s what it is,” he said.