Cubs drop fourth straight game, fall to .500 on season

Cubs drop fourth straight game, fall to .500 on season

SAN DIEGO – This appeared to be the perfect setting for a Cubs 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 deal with a 1:40 p.m. first pitch on Memorial Day at Petco Park.

Kyle Hendricks then cruised through the beginning of his start, racking up five strikeouts through three innings and retiring the first 10 hitters he faced. And then the perfect game vanished.

Hendricks – a National League Cy Young Award finalist and major-league ERA leader last season and the most reliable Cubs starter next to Jon Lester this season – gave up back-to-back singles and drilled cleanup hitter Ryan Schimpf with a pitch before Hunter Renfroe launched a grand slam into the left-field seats.      

That sudden loss of momentum framed a 5-2 loss and became a microcosm for a season that has already upended expectations. After 50 games, the Cubs are a .500 team on a four-game losing streak.

The Cubs had the Padres (20-33) on the ropes in the first inning, when Jason Heyward lined a two-out, two-run bases-loaded single into right field for a 2-0 lead. Jarred Cosart got into another bases-loaded jam in the second inning but escaped on a day where the Cubs went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.

How Kris Bryant became the face of the never-panic Cubs

How Kris Bryant became the face of the never-panic Cubs

SAN DIEGO – Kris Bryant stood in the middle of Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Sunday afternoon, almost the exact same spot where he faced the waves and waves of reporters coming at his locker last October.

Bryant answered every last question after the Cubs fell behind 2-1 in the National League Championship Series (and, really, throughout the playoffs). He had managed the only two hits off Rich Hill that night – knocking two curveballs for singles – and gave a death stare when asked if any sense of panic was creeping into the room after back-to-back shutouts. 

“Nope,” Bryant said, pausing four seconds and turning to his right with a next-question look. “I’m not concerned at all.”

So you can imagine Bryant’s alert level when a reporter mentioned some of the reactions on Twitter and back home in Chicago after a lost weekend where the Cubs got swept out of Dodger Stadium. 

“Sweet,” Bryant said, looking completely relaxed in a gray Hurley T-shirt, darker gray jeans and spotless white Adidas sneakers.

This attitude helps explain why Bryant became the antidote to generations of negativity around the Cubs. It goes beyond the numbers on the back of his baseball card, a sophisticated approach to hitting and the surprising combination of high-level speed and athleticism for a 6-foot-5 slugger.   

“Um, I mean, we’re not panicking,” Bryant said. “Everybody has their own thoughts. And I guess it’s just natural as humans. Even baseball players, when something bad happens, sometimes we speed it up and it ends up just piling onto things and it gets even worse. There’s none of that here. But I don’t see any reason to worry. Especially given what we did last year.”

If super-agent Scott Boras has ever seen Bryant flip out, well, that’s going to remain sealed under attorney-client privilege. Except for Rose Donuts here in San Diego or the NL MVP’s wedding reception in Las Vegas.   

“When Kris and I eat donuts together, I see that moment of absolute anticipation,” Boras said. “That’s the greatest anxiety, right before we get to that donut. His dad getting ready to sing a song that he didn’t know about at his wedding – cool, calm and collected.

“So I would say that Kris has a rare skill, because intellectually, emotionally, he is a guy that is very, very competitive and wants to be better every day. But he’s not a guy that in any way reflects any kind of (stress). It’s just so buried in him, what kind of competitor he is.

“He really is ultra-competitive. He is one driven guy. He does it not through the exhibition of his emotions. He does it through thought. It’s a true, quiet intensity.

“He’s that classic neurosurgeon personality. To get better with the scalpel, you have to be lighter with it. That’s kind of how he is, that touch.” 

That became clear during the run-up to the 2013 draft, when Cubs executives Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod sat down with the University of San Diego junior in a hotel lobby in Stockton, California, during the West Coast Conference tournament.

“I’m sure things make him boil at times,” McLeod said. “But he’s just got this way about him. Thinking back to that time when we met with him, it was like: ‘Gosh, if there’s a guy who can handle Chicago as a second overall pick, it’s this guy, just because of the way he’s wired.’

“His preparation pregame, his in-game ABs, he understands that strikeouts are going to be part of the game. And they are part of the game for him. I don’t think he lets himself get too down when that happens. Of course, he doesn’t like it. But he’s just like: ‘OK, I’m on to the next at-bat.’ Or: ‘I’m going to go back out on the field and play the best defense I can.’ Just one of the more level-headed guys I’ve ever been around.”     

Bryant whiffed three times in his big-league debut – and almost led the majors with 199 strikeouts that season – and didn’t homer until his 21st game and still became the NL’s 2015 Rookie of the Year.

Bryant started this season 0-for-14 – and his .939 Memorial Day OPS is still 50-plus points higher than it had been at this time last year during his MVP campaign.

Against some of the best pitching in the world, Bryant has a career .843 OPS in 26 playoff games. So far, pitcher, catcher and second base are the only defensive positions he hasn’t played for the Cubs.

Bryant spent part of Monday morning hunched over a laptop inside Petco Park’s visiting clubhouse, watching video of Jarred Cosart and how the Padres right-hander approached him and Diamondbacks slugger Paul Goldschmidt.

Instead of breaking a bat over his knee or slamming his glove to the ground in frustration or pressing the panic button for a .500-ish team, Bryant will go back to work.

“You can’t really take anything for granted, I guess,” Bryant said. “(But) I don’t understand. There’s no need to worry. You’re going to have your good starts, your bad starts. This obviously is a pretty average start. It’s not a terrible start. But sometimes it happens.

“We’ve spoiled ourselves with last year and that start. But I guess it’s a good thing to have those expectations, because we all do, too.”

Carl Edwards Jr.'s special tie to Memorial Day

Carl Edwards Jr.'s special tie to Memorial Day

For Carl Edwards Jr., Memorial Day has a special meaning.

That's because the Cubs reliever has a very close tie to the armed services. 

Edwards met his fiance, Nette Smith, before her deployment in Afghanistan. Throughout her active service, Edwards kept in touch by writing her letters. Their relationship eventually blossomed, and now the couple has a one-year-old child. 

With Smith's army commitment finished, she views Memorial Day as a time to appreciate all those who serve. 

"To me, Memorial Day is a day set aside for me to remember some of the people I have met who sacrificed everything," Smith said. 

Watch the couple's entire story in the video above.