SAN DIEGO – There’s a fine line between staying calm and not overreacting and assuming this will happen again for the Cubs just because they’ve done it before.
This appeared to be the perfect setting for a team coming off a three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium where they had been completely dominated and looked nothing like the defending World Series champs.
The Padres have an Opening Day payroll around $68 million (with more than $30 million going to guys no longer on the team), three Rule 5 picks on their active roster, two players who’ve been DFA’d by the Cubs within the last 10 months (Clayton Richard and Matt Szczur) and the No. 3 overall pick in the June draft. San Diego’s best starting pitcher – Trevor Cahill – is on the disabled list with a strained right shoulder and didn’t make any of the three playoff rosters last year as a Cubs reliever.
After flying cross-country from Washington the night before, the Padres had to wake up for a 1:40 p.m. first pitch on Memorial Day. And yet there was All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo standing in Petco Park’s visiting clubhouse trying to make sense of a 5-2 loss that dropped the Cubs back down to .500 after 50 games.
“It’s not all peachy right now,” Rizzo said. “We got urgency. We’re grinding. We got a lot of guys that grind and will continue to – no matter what. We’ll keep playing hard…that’s really all you can do.”
This became a microcosm of the season so far, Kyle Hendricks racking up five strikeouts through three innings, retiring the first 10 batters he faced and working with a 2-0 lead that should have meant cruise control for a National League Cy Young Award finalist and the major-league ERA leader last season.
The perfect game vanished when Hendricks gave up back-to-back singles and hit cleanup hitter Ryan Schimpf (.167 average) with a pitch. Hunter Renfroe then launched an 87-mph Hendricks fastball into the left-field seats for a grand slam in front of a sellout crowd (41,414) that didn’t come to see the Padres (20-33).
“I don’t think anybody expected us to be .500, but it doesn’t matter,” Hendricks said. “We’re at where we’re at. The only way we can go from here is focusing pitch to pitch. We got to get back to the basics, just playing the game of baseball.
“All the attention – all that – we just got to forget about it. Focus on the game and simplifying as much as we can.”
While the postgame focus became the 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and the 11 men left on base, Hendricks knows the Cubs won’t feel any sense of momentum when the rotation has a 4.58 ERA and 19 quality starts through 50 games.
“It’s got to start with us on the mound,” said Hendricks (4-3, 3.75 ERA), who gave up five runs in five innings but has been the most reliable Cubs starter next to Jon Lester. “We’re the ones with the ball in our hands, so we’re the ones that have to stop it. Regardless of how the offense is going, if we throw up zeroes, we got a good chance of winning.”
Rizzo couldn’t believe it – “Did we walk 10 times?” – when a reporter mentioned another part of the box score. “That’s a formula that usually shoots out more than two runs.”
But the “Anchorman” theme trip has already been stranger than fiction, going through a 19-inning scoreless streak and then getting 11 hits off Clayton Kershaw in another loss to the Dodgers. The Cubs have obviously been there and done that and come back from much worse. But will that be enough?
“You just keep playing, that’s all you can do,” Rizzo said. “We just all need to take a deep breath, exhale a little bit and relax. It is what it is. It’s the grind of the season.”