From the beginning of spring training, Cubs manager Joe Maddon talked about the need for a fast start.
Last year, with the World Series “hangover” lingering, Maddon’s Cubs were 6-6 and 6-7 in the early going and didn’t really get over the hump until past midseason.
After Tuesday’s home-opening 8-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field, the Cubs are a mediocre 5-5 while the Pirates are the surprise team of the season at 8-2. So how long does the “start” of the season last? After all, the Cubs could win five straight and have a nice-looking 10-5 record before too long.
Or it could be another month or two of fits and starts.
“I’d say 25 games is, like, reasonable, maybe the first month is a reasonable barometer to where you’re at with all that,” Maddon said after the game. “We’re finally getting home for the first time after being on the road. You get a chance to establish yourself on a fairly consistent routine.
“We have a night game (Wednesday) and then several days (day games) after that, which is fine this time of the year. We’ll see. The first month is an indicator of what’s going on a little bit better.”
Of course, Cubs teams these days are going to be compared with the world-champion 2016 Cubs, who went 17-5 in April and 18-10 in May.
Ten games still represent a small sample size, but “energy and enthusiasm” were the watchwords of spring training, and this group has looked rather blah out of the gate.
A .228 team batting average and little production out of the leadoff spot will contribute to the blahs. And the Pirates took the air out of the opening-day crowd of 40,144 with 3-run innings in each of the third and seventh innings.
“I see it as strong,” said second baseman Javier Baez, who thrilled the crowd with a pair of home runs. “With haven’t been hot, everybody, but we’re battling. We expect other guys to play as a team and trust your teammate who is behind you.”
Even with Monday’s snowout of the regularly scheduled opener, Maddon went Tuesday with No. 5 starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood, who displayed good velocity on his fastball early before running up his pitch count in the second and third innings.
The Cubs scored single runs in the first and second innings, with Baez putting them ahead 2-1 in the second with a booming home run to left field, with the ball landing just below the videoboard.
But the Pirates sent nine men to the plate in the third, scoring three times. They got a solo homer in the fourth by Starling Marte to go up 5-2. But the pitch Chatwood wanted back resulted in a run-scoring single to No. 8 hitter Jordy Mercer in the second.
“They’re just placing balls pretty well out there,” said Chatwood, who fell to 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA. “I think the big one was Mercer. I had the pitcher on deck. I didn’t have to give in right there. He put a good swing on a fastball up.”
Maddon saw it much the same way.
“He had good stuff, and he came out hot, almost too hot, like 96 (mph), a lot of strikes.” he said. “Good stuff. They just got him. Couple pitches I know he’d like to have back, maybe even pitch selection back. But stuff wise, outstanding.”
The Cubs were down 8-2 in the seventh after a 3-run homer by Francisco Cervelli off Mike Montgomery before Baez’s homer in the bottom half and a 2-run rally in the eighth. “We played well again,” Maddon said. “They hit the ball well today.”