PHOENIX — The temperature outside Chase Field reached 108 degrees Monday afternoon as the Cubs arrived to prepare for the opener of a three-game series against the Diamondbacks.
But even closing the stadium roof, which dropped the temperature by more than 20 degrees inside, did little to lower the heat on an injury-depleted, road-fatigued Cubs team in the middle of a too-close-for-comfort division race.
“This is the great thing about a pennant race,” said team president Theo Epstein, whose mere, rare presence on the road suggested the gravity of the moment. “You’ve just got to find a way to win.”
They found a new and improved way, beating the Diamondbacks 5-1 behind Kyle Hendricks’ 8⅔ innings and home runs by Javy Baez and Kris Bryant.
The five runs matched their highest total for a game in the last 10 days — and their total for the entire weekend series against the Reds.
Baez’s two-run shot in the sixth boosted his National League-leading RBI total to 105. Bryant’s homer was his first since July 21, five days before he went on the disabled list for more than a month because of shoulder soreness.
“This is what you play for — 2½-game lead with two weeks to go,” Epstein said before the game. “It’s awesome. We’re in a spot right now where we’re not hitting and we’re facing some adversity with the schedule and some injuries, but that doesn’t matter.
“Ten years from now, you don’t remember that. You just remember if you’ve got a flag flying or not.”
Ten days from now, they should have a much better idea how feasible that is.
The second-place Brewers beat the Reds by the time Hendricks retired the first 10 Diamondbacks he faced. By the time he retired 11 in a row from the fifth through the eighth, the third-place Cardinals had beaten the Braves.
The only run Hendricks allowed came on A.J. Pollock’s leadoff homer in the ninth.
Monday marked the 28th consecutive game for the Cubs during a 30-day grind. They’re 17-10 in that stretch — including rainouts — despite going just 4-5 and averaging 2.6 runs over the previous nine.
Over the monthlong span, the Cubs have had back-to-back series without traveling only once: last month when they played the Reds and Mets at home.
“Give our guys a lot of credit,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They’ve not complained. We’ve fought through it, and I’m really proud of how we’ve handled it.”
Once they return home after Wednesday’s night game, the Cubs’ final 10 games all are in Chicago, including three against the White Sox on the South Side.
Meanwhile, right-fielder Jason Heyward (hamstring) was available for the first time in almost three weeks as the Cubs faced All-Star left-hander Patrick Corbin in the series opener. Heyward is expected to return to the starting lineup Tuesday.
And first-half closer Brandon Morrow (elbow) could be ready to pitch in a game this week for the first time since July 15, though his effectiveness, durability and potential to return to the closer role in the next month is anything but certain.
But whether the Cubs will rediscover some kind of consistent hitting production in time for a late surge, and how they’ll finish games with leads, remains anybody’s guess.
“We have a resilient group of guys, and we’ve found some creative ways to win ballgames recently,” said Epstein, who seemed reluctant to talk about the fatigue factor at this point in the season.
“We have a mentally strong, mentally tough group,” he said when asked about fatigue. “It’s not being talked about privately. It’s not an excuse. It could contribute to things, but it’s not an excuse. You don’t get a do-over. We have to deal with it. … It’ll be something really nice to overcome. That’s the way I look at it.”