SAN FRANCISCO – Maybe the buzz from the Jose Quintana trade is beginning to wear off, the Cubs are missing All-Star shortstop Addison Russell, the San Francisco Giants don’t bring out that same edge anymore and a young team will inevitably feel the growing pains and a World Series hangover.
But manager Joe Maddon didn’t try to spin Tuesday night’s 6-3 loss at AT&T Park with the usual positive message and a look ahead to a brighter tomorrow.
“We’re playing like that .500 team that we were in the first half, and I don’t like it,” Maddon said. “We got to get sharper.”
The little things added up: That Javier Baez error on a routine groundball in the first inning and the next batter – Buster Posey – launching a three-run homer over the left-center-field wall and in between two fans trying to catch it. Quintana settling down and then giving up a two-out RBI single to Giants pitcher Ty Blach in the fourth inning. Second baseman Ian Happ not stopping the ball that skipped underneath his glove, allowing an insurance run to score in the eighth inning.
“We just didn’t play well,” Maddon said. “We did not play well out there and it started out from the beginning. I’ve talked about it from Day 1 of spring training: For us to get back to the promised land, we got to catch the ball. Maybe not at the level we did last year, but a lot better than we have to this point.”
Those issues helped create the inconsistent team that was 43-45 at the All-Star break and 5.5 games out of first place at the All-Star break. As confident and as refreshed as the Cubs looked to start the second half, they didn’t bury the rest of the National League Central in the first half and will have to keep fending off the Milwaukee Brewers (1.5 games back) and St. Louis Cardinals (2.5 games back).
“We’ll be ready for it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “But we got to worry about ourselves. You can’t worry about (that). You can’t control what they’re going to do. Every team plays hard to win. We got to worry about ourselves – and everything else will take care of itself.”
The Cubs (59-53) have the most talent, depth and playoff experience in the division, plus a favorable schedule down the stretch. But this is also a team that: has lost three Quintana starts in a row; is dealing with issues throughout the bullpen; relies on an exceptionally young core of hitters; and will face Madison Bumgarner on Wednesday afternoon in the Bay Area.
“Just come out and play,” Rizzo said. “We lost today. That’s it. We’re not going to ride that rollercoaster that hard this half, so we’ll just stay even-keel.”