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updated: 5/24/2018 8:12 PM

Chicago Cubs not worried about fits and starts

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  • Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, right, is consoled by Jason Heyward as he walks back to the dugout after being tagged out at home during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Chicago.

    Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, right, is consoled by Jason Heyward as he walks back to the dugout after being tagged out at home during the seventh inning of the team's baseball game against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Chicago.

 
By Sean Hammond
shammond@shawmedia.com

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon suggested his team's loss to the Cincinnati Reds in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday might have been the best thing to happen to the club.

Cubs reliever Justin Wilson walked three batters in the 11th inning, including one with the bases loaded, to give the Reds a walk-off victory.

Maddon, this week, referred to it as "the awful game in Cincinnati."

"I love the way we reacted (after) that," Maddon said. "I love the way I was not involved in the positive reaction (after) that. It was all about them, the guys getting together and making it work."

The Cubs took the second game of the doubleheader and won Sunday's series finale.

Now, a little more than a quarter of the way through the season, the Cubs began Thursday sitting fourth in the National League Central at 25-21, still in the thick of the division race with the Milwaukee Brewers atop the division.

It's a better start than last year, when the Cubs were two games under .500 at the end of May. The 2017 Cubs still found a way to win 92 games and the Central Division. Of course, it certainly doesn't compare to the 2016 Cubs, who were 35-15 on May 31.

"The attitudes, the personalities (on the Cubs) are just built for the long haul," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said this week. "We've got good guys all around to pick each other up. Whether we go on a 15-, 20-game run, we're just going to enjoy the process that it takes to be good."

If the Cubs are firing on all cylinders, they have the potential to go on runs like Rizzo suggests. The Cubs had winning streaks of five games or better exactly five times in 2016 and 2017. The 2018 Cubs already have had two five-game winning streaks.

While the offense appears to sputter at times, the Cubs are third in the MLB in runs per game. They're second, behind the New York Yankees, in on-base percentage, and fifth in slugging percentage.

"You're not going to go out there and win every game. As much as we expect to win every game, we're not going to do that," third baseman Kris Bryant said. "The biggest thing that we can control is that when we go out there, I think we're giving our best effort. With the talent in here, I think when we're giving our best effort things usually go our way."

Rizzo struggled early on but now has a six-game hitting streak going. His average was down to .149 at the end of April, but he has pushed it to .207. Five of his 6 home runs have come in May.

Bryant has been the most consistent bat in the lineup, although Javier Baez (11 home runs, 38 RBI) has put together the most impressive power numbers thus far.

On the other end of the spectrum, only Houston and Milwaukee have a better team ERA than the Cubs. Still, starters Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish have struggled at times.

Maddon hoped the loss in Cincinnati -- specifically, the way the Cubs reacted to it -- would be a turning point for the club and spark a run as May turns to June. But back-to-back losses to Cleveland this week, in which the Cubs scored 2 total runs, didn't help that cause.

Maddon, as always, preached patience this week. Last season's division title is proof that there's no reason to panic, even during rough stretches.

"Losing doesn't bother me, at all, because it's part of what we do. But it's how you lose that bothers me," Maddon said. "Your focus has got to be pointed in the right direction all the time. When you're not there, the bar that we've set and the method that we've accumulated over the last couple years, we can't let that go backwards."

• Twitter: @sean_hammond

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