CHICAGO — A new-look lineup, another strong performance out of starter Kyle Hendricks and a July 4 opponent named the Cincinnati Reds were more than enough for the Chicago Cubs to return to the victory column as they won 10-4 on Monday to break a four-game skid.
The Cubs have beaten the lowly Reds 10 of 11 times this season, so some might think their record is a little inflated at 52-30. After all, they just lost to plus-.500 teams in New York (four times) and Miami (three times). Is beating the Reds meaningful?
“Hey, it’s better than not beating the Reds,” manager Joe Maddon said with a smirk after the game.
In reality, over the course of a long season, there will be moments when good teams will beat the good ones and lose to the bad ones and vice versa. In fact, that was the case with these Cubs over the first two months. Then, injuries hit and the better teams started taking advantage. Maddon has a message for those who aren’t impressed with wins over teams like the 30-54 Reds.
“They have no idea what it takes to win a major league baseball game,” the Cubs manager said of the critics. “They have no concept, and I don’t expect them to.”
Of course, come October the Cubs will need to beat the plus-.500 teams, but during an injury-riddled period to their season, any old win will do. And the bottom line is the other National League contenders are in the same boat. The Cubs are 22-18 against plus-.500 teams and 30-12 against sub-.500. The San Francisco Giants are 17-14 and 35-18, while the Washington Nationals are 26-22 and 24-11. Those vaunted New York Mets raised their plus-.500 record to above .500 in sweeping the Cubs. They’re 24-21 and 20-16. What does it mean for October? Absolutely nothing.
“The group that wants to take a trip to negative town, believe me, it’s not that easy,” Maddon said of beating anyone in baseball.
More important than Monday’s win was the postgame news that Kris Bryant will be fine after a collision with good friend Albert Almora Jr. in left center. Bryant left the game after the inning with a leg contusion but is expected to play Tuesday. The play may have brought back bad memories of Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber running into each other in Game No. 3 of the season, but this outcome was much better.
“Center field has priority, [but] when it’s that high and someone is camped, that’s a different situation,” Maddon explained.
Almora probably ran into Bryant’s territory, but usually the center fielder has the right of way. After the game, Almora admitted he was too aggressive, talking to reporters while Schwarber was getting dressed next to him. It was all a reminder the Cubs are as banged up as they’ve been under Joe Maddon, resulting in an even younger lineup. According to ESPN Stats Information, Monday was the first time this season a team started nine players 26 years or younger, as the Cubs’ average age for their lineup against the Reds was 24 years, 158 days.
One of those youngsters was Hendricks, who lowered his ERA to 2.61.
“I don’t think he can pitch any better than he is right now,” Maddon said.
Another kid playing a key role for the Cubs is Addison Russell, who smiled when thinking about his day batting fifth for the first time this season. He had two hits, including his ninth home run.
“Today was the most comfortable I felt all year,” Russell declared.
Finally, every Twitter baseball manager’s wish came true as Jason Heyward hit sixth in the order for the first time, leading to a two-run double in the first inning. “I told you so” could be heard all around Chicago. It all added up to a slump-busting win.
“You’re going to have those moments,” Maddon said of losing streaks. “To think you’re not going to is really kind of skewed thinking. It’s going to happen.”
Just probably not against the Reds.