Just when the Chicago Cubs have appeared to be on the brink of watching their postseason aspirations spiral away, they come through.
That’s how good teams perform, and the Cubs have shown a knack for moving past a tough couple of games, staying locked in and maintaining their hold on a playoff spot. They bounced back following a pair walk-off losses last weekend in Cincinnati to win the series finale, leading into a sweep of the San Francisco Giants, and after dropping three consecutive games to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cubs took care of business in Sunday’s 5-2 win.
“I feel like we’ve been honestly grinding away at it the last couple days and just nothing really to show for it,” shortstop Dansby Swanson said. “Once again, it’s just one of those things we’ve got to stay the course and continue to prepare and go out there and obviously compete.”
Three solo home runs in the third inning — Christopher Morel, and back-to-back homers by Cody Bellinger and Swanson — helped the Cubs (77-67) build a 4-0 lead in a bullpen game for Arizona.
The win put the Cubs two games ahead of the Diamondbacks for the second National League wild-card spot. It also still gives them a chance to secure the season head-to-head tiebreaker if the Cubs sweep them in Arizona next weekend.
Over their last 17 games, the Cubs rotation owns the lowest ERA in the majors (2.14).
“When two teams line up with similar records, it’s going to be tough and the little detail here and there is going to push it the other way,” manager David Ross said. “This group’s overcome a lot of adversity, have had a lot of challenges. They’ve had a lot of narratives about them and all they do is continue to go out and play baseball really hard and put up W’s.”
Sunday’s victory embodied the all-around play that has gotten the Cubs to this point, led by their pitching staff and defense. Kyle Hendricks held Arizona to two runs in 5 2/3 innings and started the game by retiring 10 of the first 11 batters he faced.
Ian Happ’s defense in left field during the fifth prevented Arizona from getting back into the game. With two runners on and nobody out and a run already in, Happ made a sliding pop-up catch and fired the ball to second base to catch Emmanuel Rivera off the bag for a double play.
“I’ve got to remind some of these guys, they haven’t seen me playing field the big leagues, I did it, not only second, third, but also played first for (Anthony Rizzo) a couple of times, you know?” Happ said with a smirk. “You don’t lose that, some of those little things you’ve done your whole life. So it’s nice when you can show it off a little bit.”
Hendricks got out of it one batter later, ending the inning on a Corbin Carroll pop out.
“That was a big inning-ender for their momentum,” Ross said.
Everything the Cubs want to accomplish remains in front of them. Three games at Coors Field, preceded by the rookie road trip dress-up tradition, and three final games against the Diamondbacks set the Cubs up for their final homestand.
“We control our own destiny,” Happ said. “We played really good baseball for a long time. We were bound to lose a series there at some point. Four-game sets are tough. They’re a good team. They pitched really well. We hit some balls hard and didn’t have a ton of luck, but to win today was big.”