Comeback Cubs win fifth straight as they wait for vaunted rotation to catch up
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Cubs manager Joe Maddon doesn’t hesitate to explain how the Cubs have managed to lead the majors with 25 come-from-behind victories already this season, including all five during their current winning streak.
“Everything’s believable,” Maddon said. “We believe in everything right now. Santa Claus is absolutely true.”
Talk about a gift.
“When you get to that point and you get that kind of confidence going, you don’t want to do anything to [St.] nick it,” he said after the Cubs rallied against the Tigers’ best pitcher for a 5-3 victory in the opener of a two-game series Tuesday at Wrigley Field.
No doubt this Cubs team is a confident, playoff-tested, no-panic group.
They might even believe in the magic of Santa Claus.
“I don’t know anything about Santa Claus,” said Jason Heyward, who doubled home a run during the three-run fifth.
So not everybody’s on the nice list. Heyward slammed his bat and then broke it over his knee after popping up with the bases loaded in the previous at-bat.
“I believe in Santa Claus,” said Rizzo, who drove in Heyward to tie the game in the fifth.
That’s what Maddon’s talking about.
“Not because of baseball,” Rizzo added, “I promise you that.”
All right, whatever.
The point is that whether it’s the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy or a fat guy in a red suit, they can believe in whatever they want. Or not believe.
As long as they know this: The other side of the comeback coin is the fact that they keep falling behind — 60 times in 83 games.
“That’s just the residue of your starting pitching not being what it normally is,” Maddon said. ‘‘We’ve given up more runs early from our starters that we didn’t anticipate happening.”
It happened again Tuesday when Kyle Hendricks, who has been “searching” for his mechanics sweet spot, allowed hits to three of the first four Tigers for a quick 2-0 deficit and then allowed another run in the fourth during a five-inning start.
He thinks he’s getting closer, he said. But the battle remains “frustrating” for the 2016 ERA champion.
Hendricks has been the story of the rotation, a backbone of three consecutive National League finalists and a group that has been up-and-down all season.
The two free agents have been sick (Yu Darvish), hurt (Darvish), walk-prone (Tyler Chatwood) and inefficient (both) since their arrivals. Jose Quintana got off to a slow start, and Hendricks has been inconsistent.
Even during the five-game win streak, the starters have allowed 18 earned runs in just 25⅓ innings (6.39). The collective ERA has crept up to 3.82, but it is only that low because presumptive All-Star Jon Lester (11-2, 2.25) has been so good.
“We’ve had one guy that’s been carrying it, and the rest of us, it’s just been up and down,” Hendricks said of the rotation.
Despite the starting rotation’s woes, the Cubs still have one of the top three records (48-35) in the National League.
The Cubs matched their high-water mark for the season at 13 games over .500 with Tuesday’s victory.
“That just shows how good all the other aspects have been,” said Hendricks, citing one of the best bullpens in baseball and a surging lineup that leads the NL in hitting, scoring, on-base percentage and OPS.
“It’s a little bit surprising in a way,” Hendricks said of the strong position through the rotation adversity. “But as good as all those other parts have been, I think once we can get rolling, that shows how good we can be.”