How much can a modest five-game winning streak really change the mindset of a team that has spent most of the year near the bottom of Major League Baseball in winning percentage?
The Cubs are about to find out.
After exploding for a perfect 5-0 start to the homestand, the Cubs handed the Marlins the finale Sunday afternoon before boarding the team plane for another long road trip.
"[We have to] just forget about this one and bounce back tomorrow," said Pedro Strop, who was saddled with the loss. "We can't be perfect. We gave it our best."
The Cubs are 12-8 in their last 20 games and have been playing better baseball in nearly every aspect of the game.
Before Strop and Brian Schlitter surrendered four runs, the bullpen had allowed only 18 earned runs in the last 80.2 innings over a 24-game stretch. And, entering play Sunday, the Cubs were pacing the National League in pitchers per plate appearance, displaying the patience and ability to work the count that is a staple of "The Cubs Way."
"This is what we've been expecting since spring training," Strop said. "Finally, we put everything together and [we've gotten] to know each other and helping pick each other up.
"I'm very happy about the way we're playing right now and we're going to keep battling and keep fighting and hopefully get even better."
As the Cubs hit the road for a 10-game stretch away from Wrigley Field, Strop, Starlin Castro and Sunday starter Jake Arrieta stressed the need to keep a positive attitude and energy in the clubhouse.
"The energy is at a pretty high level right now," Arrieta said after tossing six shutout innings. "It's kind of a contagious thing. Once we get rolling, get a few in a row, it kind of breeds confidence with everybody in that clubhouse.
"That's kinda what we need moving forward into the following day or following series. Even though we lost this one today, I think we go to Pittsburgh on a high note, based on how well we played in pretty much all facets of our game. It's been a lot of fun to watch."
The Cubs blew a lead twice and couldn't give Arrieta a victory despite a dominating performance from the 28-year-old righty. The team admitted after the game that they were gunning for a perfect homestand, but also feel that one loss won't erase all the positivity from the first few games during this stay in Chicago.
"I think these guys should keep their head up," manager Rick Renteria said. "They're very disappointed right now because we felt like we were on the cusp of being able to have a perfect homestand. We just couldn't get it finished."
The Cubs don't have much time to wallow in their recent hot stretch as they have to take on a Pirates team that has come on strong of late after a slow start.
"In a streak, we all know that a lot of things come into play," Renteria said. "You have to have the pitching and the defense. You have to have the clutch hitting.
"Sometimes you overcome deficits and adversity and hopefully we can get on the road trip here. ... We have to go in there and have the confidence that they've carried in this homestand and go out there and try to execute and just play the game and let the results take care of themselves."