PHILADELPHIA — Manager Joe Maddon is nothing if not fearless.
Maybe that’s ultimately what it’ll take for the Cubs to get over the hump down the stretch and look like the postseason threat they were the last two seasons.
It sure hasn’t been the pitching of left-hander Jose Quintana, especially not in a 7-1 loss Friday to the Phillies, who have the worst record in baseball.
And it sure hasn’t been a lineup that regularly has beaten up subpar Reds and Orioles pitching staffs but has done little consistently against anyone else this season. The Cubs struck out 14 times against the Phillies, with only a solo home run by Kyle Schwarber to show for nine hits in the loss.
But none of that keeps Maddon from wanting a piece of the steamrolling Dodgers in October. The Dodgers have been on the kind of historic run that produced their 90th victory with a week left in August and makes them a prohibitive World Series favorite.
‘‘Love it, love it,’’ Maddon said before the reigning champion Cubs fell behind 6-1 in less than two innings to a team that fielded four players who spent time in the minors this season — and maybe two or three that the average fan has heard of. ‘‘Listen, I’m very confident playing against them. Absolutely. We need to finish this off strongly, which we’re very capable of doing, but I like the way we match up against them a lot, not a little bit.’’
For those scoring at home, that makes one very public challenge to a team playing as though it’s trying to earn a rarefied place in major-league history.
Talk about fearless.
The Cubs weren’t so much as 10 games above .500 until Tuesday. They haven’t led the moribund National League Central by more than 3½ games.
But Maddon said he envisions a Quintana with better command of a breaking ball that made him dominant in his first start with the Cubs last month against the Orioles, not to mention a healthier roster by the time they face the Dodgers.
Assuming they make the playoffs, that is.
The Cubs played all their regular-season games against the Dodgers during their up-and-down first half, winning two of three in their first home series of the season before being swept in Los Angeles in late May.
‘‘We were just going through that malaise where we just weren’t playing good baseball,’’ Maddon said of the sweep. ‘‘We’re playing better baseball. We’re still not playing as good as we can right yet. I anticipate we’re going to get to that in September, once everybody gets well.’’
Opening Day starter Jon Lester (lat/shoulder) might return from the disabled list in early September, shortstop Addison Russell (foot) might be on a similar timeline and catcher Willson Contreras (hamstring) might be right behind them.
‘‘Once we get the band back together and out there playing our game, I’d be very, very happy to get that opportunity to play them,’’ Maddon said of the Dodgers, who were on a 55-11 run as they opened a home series Friday against the Brewers. ‘‘Nothing would make me happier than that.
‘‘That’s not to denigrate other teams that could potentially get in [the playoffs]. But for us, I’ve always been about, ‘You want to beat the best to be the best — or the best right now.’ And you’ve got to go through that group.
‘‘I’m looking forward to that moment where I’m feeling like we’re clicking on all cylinders again, like we had last year. We’re getting closer to it. And when you get to that point, bring on all comers.’’
Till then, they’ll see whether they can beat the Phillies on Saturday.
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