Joe Maddon agreed it has been quite the slog. He likened the experience of this Cubs season to being underwater. Who ever said winning was supposed to be easy?
Great at home, awful on the road. In first place, then not, then back again — barely. No one is confusing the 2019 Cubs with a runaway train like the one this city marveled at in 2016.
But after the Cubs beat the Giants 1-0 on Thursday at Wrigley Field to complete a three-game sweep and run their winning streak to five games, it was undeniable that they were in as strong a state as they’ve been in for a while.
They are 11 games over .500, equaling their high-water mark.
The starting rotation keeps holding down the fort. Kyle Hendricks pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing three hits, striking out seven and walking none. His numbers at home: a sparkling 5-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 11 starts, the last 10 of which have been quality starts.
“Every time he takes the ball, it’s kind of the same exact start every single time,” Kris Bryant said. “Seven innings, no runs? It’s just fun to play defense behind him.”
Bryant’s diving stop and strong throw from behind the third-base bag in the eighth nipped Kevin Pillar at first, a key play on a day when the wind was blowing in and the littlest things counted.
The biggest of those little things: Anthony Rizzo’s two-out, run-scoring single in the fourth, which drove in Jason Heyward, who’d reached base with a lucky single when center fielder Pillar lost the ball in the sun.
And that did it for the Cubs’ hits all game long. There were only two of them, both off Giants starter Jeff Samardzija, the ex-Cub. It was the fewest number of hits for the Cubs in a victory since April 2017.
“Even better,” Rizzo said. “It doesn’t matter how you get them.”
The Cubs are 11 over, the rotation is strong, the bullpen has been solidified — Brandon Kintzler, Kyle Ryan and Rowan Wick each got two big outs — and the offense is, well, good when it’s good and not when it’s not.
No team is perfect, certainly not these Cubs.
But Rizzo disagreed with Maddon on the whole “slog” thing.
“We’re a week away from September,” he said. “A couple weeks away from Thanksgiving and Christmas. So it’s flown by this year. Hopefully, we continue to play well.”
At some point, Maddon is going to have to formulate his thoughts about which pitcher should start Game 1 of the postseason, if the Cubs get there. Especially if it turns out they’re hosting a wild-card game at Wrigley, they could do a heck of a lot worse than handing the ball to Hendricks.
He has a team-high 11 starts of at least seven innings — four of them scoreless outings — this season. He also has 23 straight starts in which he has issues two or fewer walks, the longest Cubs streak since Scott Sanderson went 24 starts in 1984.
The Cubs are 16-3 over their last 19 home games. Their five-game overall winning streak is their longest since the seven-gamer that ended in early May.
With the Nationals — who have fought their way squarely into the playoff picture, too — coming in for a weekend series, the Cubs feel plenty good about the position they’re in.
“We think so, for sure,” Hendricks said. “I mean, we’ve been grinding for a while, and it’s been the same focus. So things are starting to come together now. We see where we’re at in the season.”