‘Got to be better’: Brutal road trip drops Cubs below Cardinals in NL Central standings

The Cubs went 2-7 against Minnesota, Houston and Philadelphia.

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The Cubs’ Dansby Swanson gets picked off in the top of the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. The Cubs lost 2-1.

The Cubs’ Dansby Swanson gets picked off in the top of the fourth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday. The Cubs lost 2-1.

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — The Cubs dropped below the Cardinals in the National League Central standings Sunday, ending a 10-day road trip with a sputter.

“Realistically, we’ve just got to be better,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said after the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Phillies. “If you want to compete in this league consistently, you’ve got to play well, and you’ve got to prepare well. You’ve got to take the field every day and give it your best effort whether you’re feeling good or bad or indifferent.”

Early in the Cubs’ slide, they could at least take solace in the fact that none of their division rivals was surging. But after going 2-7 on a three-city trip to Minneapolis, Houston and Philadelphia, the Cubs (20-26) head back home in fourth place in the division, only one game ahead of the last-place Reds (19-27).

The Cardinals, on the other hand, have won 11 of their last 14 games, including a series win against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, reversing their trajectory.

“Get home, reset, day off tomorrow,” manager David Ross said. “We’ve got to just continue to support each other and figure out ways to win ballgames. And it’s not for lack of effort or work right now.”

The road trip — which pitted the Cubs against the American League Central leaders, the 2022 World Series winners and the runners-up — included drastic swings from one side of the spectrum to the other.

“A good litmus test [against] teams that play championship baseball and were in the biggest game, in the World Series, last year,” Ross said. “I don’t feel like we’re far off from that, but we’ve definitely got to be better.”

The Cubs started their road swing with one of their best games of the year, a 6-2 victory against the Twins that featured strong pitching and a determined offense that generated a run against Sonny Gray, who has the best ERA in the majors (1.64), and piled on against the Minnesota bullpen.

The trip also contained the Cubs’ worst game of the season, a 7-6 walk-off loss to the Astros in which they blew a five-run lead.

Then the Cubs opened the Phillies series with a nine-run win and lost by nine runs the next day.

By the end, the scales had tipped definitively to the negative.

The Cubs had a minus-27 run differential over the nine games. They went 13-for-64 (.203) with runners in scoring position and had a 7.51 ERA. The rotation, bullpen and offense took turns bearing the brunt of the responsibility for the losses.

“The three teams that we played are all really good teams,” Swanson said. “And I think it showed us that, ‘Hey, we’ve got to consistently strive to get better and play with the right attitude every day to give ourselves the best chance to be successful.’ ’’

A few factors are bound to even out to the Cubs’ advantage and detriment. The trip included uncharacteristically poor outings from starters Marcus Stroman and Hayden Wesneski against Minnesota. Stroman bounced back with a quality start against the Phillies, and Wesneski headed to Triple-A to get back on track.

The Cubs also had something of a power surge, launching 13 home runs. Christopher Morel (seven) and Seiya Suzuki (four) were responsible for 11 of those, an unsustainable pace.

Next, the Cubs have a nine-game homestand against the Mets (25-23), Reds and Rays (34-14).

“We’ve all had long road trips, and this was definitely a long road trip,” Swanson said. “But it’s nice to be able to go back home and get a day to rest, recover and see loved ones. That can do a lot for the psyche. And obviously coming back and being able to play in front of our fans is always a big deal.”

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