If anyone was sweating the Cubs’ 10-3 loss to the woeful Mets at the end of a long afternoon of baseball Wednesday, it wasn’t the Cubs.
That’s because if there is such a thing as an off day on a game day — a sacrifice for the greater good in a pennant race — it was this one.
Facing the longest road trip of the year and still missing several key roster parts, manager Joe Maddon gave needed rest days to regulars Javy Baez, Jason Heyward and Daniel Murphy.
It came on a day Maddon already had a sixth starter — Alec Mills — inserted into the mix to give the regular five in the rotation a break nine days into a stretch of 23 games in 23 days.
The Cubs already had a game in hand Wednesday, thanks to Ben Zobrist’s 11th-inning single for a 2-1 win to finish the game suspended after nine innings by rain Tuesday night.
After a quick turnaround to start the scheduled game, Todd Frazier put the Mets in the driver’s seat with a first-inning grand slam. After that, Maddon refused to use the regulars off his bench and started looking ahead at the most grueling 11 days of the season.
“I just preferred doing it this way today,” said Maddon, whose team had opened a season-high 4½-game division lead with the seven-game winning streak that Frazier and the Mets eventually snapped.
“I don’t feel fatigued. I don’t think the guys do, either,” Maddon said. “And that was the whole point, to not feel fatigued going into this stretch.”
The 11-game trip includes stops in four cities, including a makeup game in Atlanta Thursday against the National League East leaders, giving the Cubs the rare privilege of playing three consecutive days in three different cities for the first time in nine years.
The Cubs will open a three-game series Friday against the contending Phillies and then head to Milwaukee for a three-game series against the rival Brewers. The trip concludes with four in Washington against Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals.
“The good thing is we’re playing a lot of good teams that we’re going to see potentially in the first or second round of the playoffs,” said Anthony Rizzo, the reigning NL player of the week, who’s on a 15-for-27 (.556) tear over the last eight games. “It’s good to see them later in the season to kind of gauge them.”
The Cubs will see the Braves’ top pitcher, Mike Foltynewicz, Thursday, with Mike Montgomery rejoining the rotation from the disabled list (shoulder).
And while they’ll miss ex-teammate Jake Arrieta in Philadelphia over the weekend, Phillies ace Aaron Nola, a Cy Young contender, was moved up in the rotation to face Jon Lester on Sunday.
“It’s an important road trip,” said Zobrist, who gave the Cubs’ their seventh walk-off win of the year in the earlier game. “If we can play strong through the weekend against some good teams, hopefully that’ll set us up going against Milwaukee and later in the road trip.
“Especially that first half of the road trip, we really have to kind of just assert ourselves in the solid place we’re at in the division.”
One thing’s for sure. Barring injury, you won’t see another lineup the rest of the way with David Bote at shortstop and Tommy La Stella at third, certainly not before a potential clincher.
Wednesday’s lineup also included Kyle Schwarber batting leadoff for the first time since June 10 of last year. It had been his only appearance there since getting demoted out of that spot in mid-May after the failed experiment to replace Dexter Fowler.
But hey, no fatigue.
“I feel like we’re in a good spot,” Zobrist said. “There’s definitely a few guys still grinding, but as a team I think we feel good. We feel upbeat and excited about where we’re headed.”