Joe Maddon decided to lighten up the atmosphere in the Cubs' clubhouse before Tuesday's game by hiring a magician. Here's the guy he hired, according to what Len and JD said on the broadcast. Various beat writer tweets said Simon Winthrop entertained the Cubs with card and other tricks before the game.
That's classic Maddon, trying to get the players' minds off the recent losing and reminding them they are supposed to be having fun.
It wasn't magic, but something clicked for the Cubs in the first game of their set against the Mets at Citi Field and they came away with a well-pitched, crisply-played 1-0 win, breaking a five-game losing streak.
Kyle Hendricks was outstanding. He threw 90 pitches in his six innings (honestly? I think I'd have given him another inning, but Maddon seems to know best regarding Hendricks) and didn't walk anyone until the sixth. Otherwise he allowed just three hits and struck out six, just the seventh time in 15 starts he's struck out that many. He had excellent command and location and as you know, that's what he needs to win. While individual pitcher "wins" don't mean that much anymore, I'm sure individual pitchers like to have them. For Hendricks it was his first win since June 7.
The Cubs offense was similarly stymied by Jon Niese, though they had their chances. As they did in St. Louis, they failed early on with RISP, leaving the bases loaded in the third. However, in the sixth, Kris Bryant led off with a walk, Niese's third of the game. One out later, Chris Denorfia hit a soft ground ball back to Niese, who briefly thought about trying to throw Bryant out at second. But Bryant had too big of a jump, so Niese threw to first for the sure out.
That play could have won the Cubs the game, because Matt Szczur followed with an RBI double to left-center field. Sure, that ball might have scored Bryant from first, but it would probably have been a close play. With Bryant on second, he scored easily.
I was thinking toward the middle innings that one run might win the game. Maddon decided to go to his pen in the seventh, and he has been mixing and matching with Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Jason Motte as far as who throws which one of the last three innings. Tuesday it was Rondon's turn to throw the seventh, which he did uneventfully. Strop made up for his "Bob Costas outing" with a 1-2-3 eighth, and Motte followed with a similar easy ninth for his third save. None of the three threw more than 14 pitches (the major-league average for pitches per inning is about 16) and combined, they threw 38 pitches in the three innings, 24 for strikes. The Mets never got close to a hit or baserunner in those last three innings.
You can't ask for much more than that from your late-inning relief. I actually like Maddon's idea of not having a specific "closer," since all three of these men can close games. He's pitching more to the situation than the save stat, and really, that's as it should be.
The complaint department is definitely closed up tight after this one. However, the caution department is open, slightly at least. While this was a masterfully-pitched game, the fact that the Cubs again couldn't generate any offense is worrisome. The last two Cubs wins have now been by 1-0 scores, sandwiched around the five-game loss string. The Cubs have played eight games since the beginning of the Dodgers series and scored 12 total runs. It's a credit to the pitching staff that they've won three of those five games. But they are simply going to have to get out of this offensive drought if they're going to put any sort of winning streak together.
And you know I liked this: time of game, 2:22. It was the fourth-fastest Cubs game this year. It might be the pace-of-game rules or better baseball or a combination, but the Cubs have now played 17 games in 2:45 or quicker this season. They played just 28 such games all of last year. They also improved their record in one-run games to 19-13. It was the 28th 1-0 game played in the major leagues this year, and the third 1-0 Cubs win, tying the Dodgers for the most such wins in 2015.
The Cubs thus end June with a winning record (14-13). It's the first time they have had three straight non-losing months (they were 14-14 in May) since July, August and September 2008. And not that I think the Cubs can catch the Cardinals in the N.L. Central, but thank you White Sox for defeating St. Louis Tuesday evening. The Cubs trail the Cardinals now by 10½ games, and picked up a game on the Giants, who also lost Tuesday. The Cubs trail the Giants for the second wild-card spot by half a game.
The remaining pitching matchups in this series are favorable to the Cubs, the way I see it. Jon Lester will face Bartolo Colon Wednesday evening as the Cubs go for their eighth straight win over the Mets (dating back to last year).