PHOENIX – It didn’t end exactly how they planned – certainly not the way Cole Hamels envisioned it.
But the Cubs survived largely intact.
And by the end of their stretch of 30 consecutive days at the ballpark – or, literally every day Daniel Murphy has been a Cub – the Cubs had lost only a half-game off their NL Central lead with a mere 10 games to play.
“I think guys are going to take it real easy [Thursday],” said Hamels, who had his first bad start as a Cub Wednesday in the Cubs’ 9-0 loss to the Diamondbacks, “and really enjoy probably the last off day we have for a long time.”
And that was the bottom line for those in the Cubs’ clubhouse Wednesday – and for the last month of their daily lives together.
Their 18-11 run during that grind (including a game lost to rain) left them with a three-game lead over second-place Milwaukee with the rest of the schedule in Chicago, including three against the White Sox on the South Side starting Friday.
“It’s a lot of time at the ballpark,” Hamels (4-1) said. “You just have to learn to like each other a lot and really try to keep your edge. I think we’ve been able to do that.”
That run included five victories in their last seven games since losing that home series to the Brewers.
“We went, what, 18-11?” manager Joe Maddon said. “Sign me up, man. Sign me up. We’ll take that every day of the week. I’ve said it often: I’m proud of our guys.”
The Cubs lost two series to the Brewers and two closers during the stretch – Brandon Morrow shut down for the season after a setback during rehab and his ninth-inning backup Pedro Strop suffering a hamstring injury Thursday.
Other than that, the worst-looking loss was Wednesday, when Hamels – a rotation savior his first month since a July trade – gave up four in the first and three more in the sixth inning.
The seven runs allowed – five on a pair of homers – matched his total allowed in three previous September starts. He allowed only three earned runs in six August starts.
Hamels’ ERA jumped from 1.57 to 2.42 in 10 starts with the Cubs.
Meanwhile, left-hander Robbie Ray (6-2) and three Diamondbacks relievers combined to one-hit the Cubs on Wednesday. The only hit was Addison Russell’s leadoff single in the third – before Ray struck out Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.
What does Hamels do now, in his last two starts of the regular season, to be at his best for the playoffs?
“Probably don’t give up three-run home runs and two-run home runs,” he cracked. “Solo home runs are a little easier on the psyche. It’s just maintaining your efficiency, really trying to make sure that your workouts are not overbearing but you’re still staying sharp.
“A lot of times you get a little tired, but at the same time you’ve still got to push through, keep the body in check and really just be aware of what we have to do, because you have to be sharp no matter what.
“On the biggest stage,” Hamels added, “you want to be in the best possible position that you possibly can. You want to be the best player you can.”