Win streak ends, but Cubs think positive momentum can continue
There was plenty of bad news Sunday for the Cubs -- another rough outing for Kyle Hendricks; Jake Marisnick and Jason Heyward leaving early with injuries. But before their five-game winning streak officially ended with a 6-5 loss to Pittsburgh, they reinforced some reasons for optimism.
There has been a renewed emphasis on quality at-bats, as well as reliance on a deep roster, two traits that led to a strong week.
Trailing 6-2 heading into the bottom of the ninth, the Cubs closed within one on a 2-run double by Ildemaro Vargas, who was subbing at shortstop for Javy Baez. With the tying run on second, Baez came out to pinch hit and worked the count full before grounding out to second.
The win streak is over, but after a 5-1 homestand, the Cubs are back to .500 and hoping some of the trends established this week will continue.
"The (weather) was probably some of the tougher elements consecutively I feel like I've been a part of as a manager in my short time," David Ross said. "Extremely cold, which can wear you out over and over again.
"But our guys had great at-bats, I thought. Fought when we were down. Pitching I thought did a nice job, bounced back. All in all, a really nice homestand."
Marisnick left in the first inning with a right hamstring strain and is likely headed for the injured list. Ross pinch hit for Heyward in the ninth inning and said the right fielder had an issue with his right hand.
The other bad news was Hendricks failing to follow up on his best outing of the season Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed 9 hits and 4 earned runs in 5 innings Sunday, but also met with some tough luck early.
The Pirates loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the first inning on two soft singles and a walk. A run scored on a groundout, then Hendricks coaxed a pop up for the second out.
With a chance to get out of the inning with 1 run allowed, Wilmer Difo lofted a soft line drive to short left-center field to drive in 2 more runs. Marisnick stumbled chasing the ball and left the game immediately.
The Pirates then made it 4-0 on a Vargas error. Baez didn't start because of a sore back that forced him to leave Saturday's game early.
So there were plenty of soft hits, but how much of damage can be attributed to Hendricks not being as sharp as he could have been?
"I felt like I made a lot of good pitches," he said. "You've just got to tip your cap every once in awhile. Today was one of those days they did a good job of trying to put the bat on the ball, not trying to do too much, and they found some holes.
"I've got to focus on what I'm doing, where I'm at. The ball had the better action I'm looking for, made a lot of good pitches overall. So I've got to keep my focus there, but I've got to keep working still on everything."
This continues to be the worst start of Hendricks' major-league career. He's now 2-4 with a 6.23 ERA.
"Balls were down, off the end, ahead in the count a lot -- all those things point to good signs for him," Ross said. "The fact that it was soft (hits) off a guy who creates soft contact I think was a positive."
This was the third time the Cubs faced Pittsburgh left-hander Tyler Anderson, who tries to keep hitters off balance with a jerking pitching motion. He lost the first two games but completed 8 innings Sunday and retired the last 13 batters he faced.
"He knows how to pitch," Anthony Rizzo said. "He stays away from the big part of the plate, he works the corners. I think it was impossible to hit a home run to left field today (with the wind blowing in). So you go up there, you're not trying to do too much, just get on base."
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