A little Cubs losing streak? No big deal … probably
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Perhaps some of you can recall the last time, way back in the throes of a month called May, that the great Chicago Cubs lost not one, not two, but three games in a row.
It was unsettling. It wasn’t pretty. It extended a bad stretch to eight defeats in 12 games, causing some to wonder if the 2016 Cubs really were everything the breathless likes of yours truly had been cracking them up to be.
Yet how did the team respond? By winning the final two games of a series in St. Louis, then ripping off an 8-2 homestand and following that with series victories in Philadelphia and Atlanta. In all, the Cubs won six consecutive series while greatly improving their record from 29-14 to 43-18.
So what happens now, with the Cubs — having lost three in a row entering Thursday’s game in Miami — anything but hot?
They’ve dropped two of their last three series, including, from Monday to Wednesday, a tense, frustrating sweep by the rival Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
The soaring Giants and Rangers have caught them in the win column. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has replaced Jake Arrieta as the Cy Young favorite in the National League.
It’s fair to say the Cubs have lost a little luster.
Yet they left Chicago facing an 11-game road trip — their longest of the season — and 18 games in all until the All-Star break. As detailed above, they followed their first three-game losing streak with an 18-game tear, going 14-4. Perhaps something similar this time around?
No doubt, the Cubs will blow past 50 victories before the break. They still have a shot at a 60-win first half. There’s time to restore all the luster and then some.
Down: The Cubs are 2-3 in Arrieta’s last five starts, which merely means they aren’t unbeatable with the reigning Cy Young winner on the mound. The bigger picture is that Arrieta’s efficiency is slipping. Over his first 10 starts, all Cubs victories, Arrieta averaged 101 pitches in seven innings. Over his last five starts, he has averaged 107.6 pitches in six innings. (Where does he get off?)
Up: So what if the Cubs have lost both times Willson Contreras has started behind the plate? Who cares about the double plays he bounced into against the Cardinals? Already, the 24-year-old catcher has displayed thunder in his bat, lightning in his throwing arm and unabashed enthusiasm for the game.
Down: Does it only seem like a different Cub is getting hurt every day? No off days in the schedule before the All-Star break, either.
1 THROUGH 9
1. Giants: They’ve won 10 of 11 and, let’s face it, that championship pedigree is starting to rear its ugly head.
2. Cubs: Joe Maddon keeps saying they’ve yet to play their best baseball. To the untrained eye, they didn’t seem to play their best baseball against the Cardinals.
3. Rangers: They’ve won eight of nine and 16 of 20. Frankly, it’s getting ridiculous.
4. Indians: It took a while, but finally we have settled on this one as — um, for now — the team to beat in the A.L. Central.
5. Nationals: They beat the Cubs two games to one in D.C., then — poof — the offense disappeared on a West Coast trip.
6. Orioles: Mark Trumbo, Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, Jonathan Schoop — you’re nobody on this team if you aren’t long-ball binging.
7. Dodgers: Fifteen runs allowed over a six-game winning streak means Kershaw isn’t the only guy who’s dealing.
8. Blue Jays: Statistically, the best starting staff in the rugged A.L. East. But also the worst bullpen.
9. Royals: They’ve come up big of late in the division, winning eight of their last nine against the White Sox, Indians and Tigers.
Follow me on Twitter @slgreenberg.