CHICAGO – Bring on the Brewers.
That may have been an odd-sounding battle cry a couple of months ago for the Cubs. But hey, they did rain out a game when the Brewers were hot in May. By the gametime rolled around on that Saturday, nary a drop was to be seen.
The Brewers return to Wrigley Field for a one-day-only makeup-game engagement Thursday, and the Cubs need to be ready.
Some of the things that had been eluding the Cubs came back in a big way Wednesday in a 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Wrigley Field.
Timely hitting would be one of those things.
They got some big ones against the Rays, with Jon Jay hitting a pinch-hit three-run homer in the sixth to tie the game at 3-all. In the seventh, rookie Ian Happ flashed his cool again by singling through a drawn-in infield to put the Cubs up, 5-3. Anthony Rizzo provided the insurance with a two-run double in the eighth.
The Brewers entered Wednesday 3½ games ahead of the defending-world-champion Cubs in the National League Central.
The Cubs are the picture of mediocrity at 42-42, and their play all season reflects it. While there have been several supposed “turnaround” games for the Cubs this season, Jay says he’s starting to see it come around.
“Definitely,” the former St. Louis Cardinal said. “We’ve shown our flashes of the type of team we can be. We’ve just got to continue to keep fighting. There’s 162 games for a reason. I’ve seen that in my past with the Cardinals, where it came down to the wire every year. We’ve just got to keep on playing hard, and we’re going to be just fine.”
Manager Joe Maddon knows the Brewers are hanging out at the top spot for a reason.
“Remember last year, I was often saying how much I thought they had improved,” he said. “I liked their bullpen a lot. This year, some of the young guys are doing better offensively. They’ve added some offense, too. Not necessarily surprising. I thought they would do well this year. I did. I like some of their starting pitching, also. I’m not surprised they’ve done better, not at all.”
But then Maddon added: “I don’t worry about what the other teams are doing. I really don’t. I know we’re couple games back right now, but that’s not a concern because I do believe that if we play our game, that will take care of itself.”
Starting pitcher John Lackey left with the Cubs trailing, 3-0, but he gutted out a quality start by going 6 innings while nursing a case of plantar fasciitis.
“I’m 38 years old; I’m bothered by a lot of things,” he said.
But seriously, Lackey knows that hot streaks take time to develop.
“I don’t think we do the whole, ‘Today is the day,’” he said. “It’s a long season. Stay in your approach. Stay in what you do. We’ve got a lot of talent in the room. Hopefully it works out in the end.”
The Cubs were 3 for 10 with runners in scoring position. They entered the day batting .233 in that department, but they got their biggest hits from role player Jay and Happ, a rookie with not quite two months experience.
Maddon has praised Happ for his ability to “slow things down,” in clutch situations, not easy for any player.
“Yeah, understanding what your job is in that situation and really making sure you’re centered, breathing and trying to slow the game down as much as you can,” Happ said.
Maddon has been bemoaning the Cubs’ lack of luck at the plate, with hard-hit balls being caught. That happened a couple times Wednesday before Jay’s homer and Happ’s hit.
“It was kind of frustrating that we hit a lot of balls well that were, poof, right at folks,” he said. “Had a lot of good at-bats again. Got their starter (Blake Snell) out after 5 with like 100, 97 pitches. We did everything the same, but eventually the ball started to fall in.”