Back to .500: Bryant, Rizzo power Cubs to 6-1 win over Pirates
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon gathered his team Thursday to convey his confidence at the midpoint of a season that has been a less-than-memorable World Series title defense.
Maddon reminded his players they were still in good shape, despite what their .500 record and their deficit in the National League Central suggested.
The Cubs then went out and lost to the Brewers by nine runs in a game that featured outfielder Jon Jay pitching the ninth inning and that Maddon characterized as an anomaly and ridiculous.
The Cubs again stumbled out of the gate Friday against the Pirates before recovering behind Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, both of whom homered in a 6-1 victory at Wrigley Field.
‘‘Sometimes it takes more than 24 hours for [the message] to stick,’’ Maddon joked afterward.
The delay aside, the Cubs demonstrated they have the ability to overcome adversity. After scuffling offensively and defensively, the Cubs broke through with three runs in the fourth inning and added on from there.
Bryant, who went 4-for-5 with two home runs and four RBI, opened the scoring with an RBI triple with two outs in the fourth. Rizzo followed with his 20th homer into the right-field bleachers to make it 3-0. Bryant then hit a solo homer in the sixth and a two-run blast in the eighth.
Coupled with four scoreless innings from starter Eddie Butler and an impressive performance from the bullpen, it was enough to move the Cubs (43-43) to .500 for the 20th time this season.
‘‘Early on, it wasn’t the way we wanted it,’’ Bryant said.
The same can be said of the Cubs’ first 86 games. Maddon acknowledged the Cubs have missed the steady presence of Dexter Fowler at the top of the lineup and still are waiting for Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell to be more productive offensively. Throw in an injury to right-hander Kyle Hendricks, and it all adds up to the Cubs’ unsteady first-half performance.
But Maddon still thinks the keys to a second-hand turnaround can be found on the current roster. It was all part of his message Thursday.
‘‘Maybe we haven’t all played up to our capabilities yet, but we’re still in really good shape,’’ Maddon said in summarizing the meeting. ‘‘Now it’s really time to sharpen our focus.’’
The victory against the Pirates wasn’t without its flaws. The Cubs stranded five runners in the first three innings and committed three errors, including when center fielder Ian Happ collided with left fielder Schwarber, preventing him from catching a routine fly ball. The Pirates also committed three errors, and the teams combined to strand 21 runners.
Still, the Cubs found a way to overcome. And moving forward, that’s what they’ll need in the second half if a turnaround is to come.
‘‘It was a nice win,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘Now we’ve got to go win tomorrow and get a two-game win streak going again.’’
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