Ostrowski: Despite slow start, things falling into place for Cubs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Brian Duensing (32) celebrates with catcher Willson Contreras (40) after closing out the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Cincinnati. The Cubs won 12-8.

    Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Brian Duensing (32) celebrates with catcher Willson Contreras (40) after closing out the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds, Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Cincinnati. The Cubs won 12-8. Associated Press

 
By Joe Ostrowski
Special to the Daily Herald
Updated 4/23/2017 9:27 PM

The Cubs haven't even played all that well and they're in first place.

Don't take my word for it. Kris Bryant said it after his team's third straight comeback victory on Friday night.

 

"We had no business winning that game," Bryant told ESPN. "Those three games, we had no business winning and we pulled it out in all of them. That may never happen for the rest of the season."

It's entirely possible that the Cubs could've headed into the weekend with a 6-10 record, losing seven in a row. Mass panic throughout the city. But they battled back late in three consecutive contests after trailing from three to five runs in all of them.

Ninth-inning home run heroics from Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell in back-to-back games was the difference, right? Well yeah, but the unsung heroes were the same guys that were most responsible for a sweep by the Pirates.

The Cubs bullpen has been flat out dominant of late. In the three rallies, the pen had a stretch of 14.1 scoreless innings, allowing only three hits. Over a full game and a half of baseball without allowing a run.

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Even though the defending champs finished their home stand with a pair of wins, the schedule is on their side. The Cubs are on their longest road trip until late June. The banner raising, ring night, former teammates arriving for their jewelry, different events around the city were just a few of the distractions.

Kyle Hendricks said, "There's been a lot going on. A lot of outside factors pushing against us. So to be able to focus on the game, get some big wins. It was a tough stretch for a little bit there."

Fans were spoiled at this time a year ago. The term "run differential" was thrown around on a daily basis as their club would thrash team after team. Some of these early struggles by Hendricks and Ben Zobrist are closer to the reality of a long and difficult baseball season.

Pittsburgh is the Cubs' main threat to another NL Central crown and a mild one at that. Outfielder Starling Marte is a 5-win player that was suspended 80 games for performance enhancing drugs. Andrew McCutchen was forced to return to center field, where he had -28 defensive runs saved last year.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

San Francisco is one of the few hurdles for the north siders looking to return to the World Series. Their ace and one of the best postseason pitchers of all-time, Madison Bumgarner, may miss two months after crashing his dirt bike. The Giants reside in last place in the NL West.

Even though the Cubs are off to a somewhat slow start, things are going their way.

In this era, That's Cub.

• Joe Ostrowski is a co-host of the "Hit & Run" baseball show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on WSCR 670-AM The Score with Barry Rozner. Follow him on Twitter@JoeO670.

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