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Chicago Cubs

Cubs rally to snap 4-game skid

Chicago Cubs' Miguel Montero, right, celebrates with Jason Heyward after they scored on Montego's two-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson, during the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago Cubs' Miguel Montero, right, celebrates with Jason Heyward after they scored on Montego's two-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jimmy Nelson, during the fourth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 18, 2017, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The Cubs insist it’s too early to be concerned about a lackluster start to the 2017 season, and so far, it’s OK to believe them.

But something definitely has looked amiss in April for the defending world champions. The team has lacked a certain crispness and sharpness to its game as it got off to a 7-7 start, including Tuesday night’s 9-7 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field.

General manager Jed Hoyer said he notices it, too. Hoyer talked to the media before the Cubs went out and snapped a four-game losing streak with a four-run rally in the sixth inning.

“April is difficult,” he said. “We’re drawing big conclusions from tiny sample sizes. If you were 8-5 after 13 games, you feel good. If you’re 6-7, you feel bad. I think that’s the nature of it. That said, I don’t think we’ve played the kind of baseball we played last year, that’s for sure. We’ve been sloppier at times than we were last year.

“I think that’s the only part that I feel when I watch the games, we didn’t do that last year. We were very clean. We took care of the ball. We didn’t give other teams outs. The offensive part, I have zero concerns about that. That’s just a matter of time.”

Of course, the big question is why. Why have the Cubs looked so blah? Even though they brought back essentially the same crew that won last year’s World Series, these Cubs will need time to form this year’s team identity.

“One of the things about coming off a world championship or coming off a good season, I do think there’s a tendency to feel like, ‘OK, we have the same group together; the same things are going to happen again,’ ” Hoyer said. “And I think every team has to create their own identity, and every team has to go through that process again. Maybe this is good for us in a way. It forces our guys to realize just bringing back a lot of the same guys on a really good team, it doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes time.

“It takes building that identity and working through some problems. Certainly not concerned. I hope that we start playing better soon. But as far as concern about it, no, I think this is sort of a part of a subpar 13 games, and we’ll get things going. I think that’s kind of how the clubhouse feels as well.”

The hope for Hoyer and the Cubs is that the muscle memory kicks in soon.

“I just think it’s been a very up-and-down 13 games,” he said. “Even in the games we’ve won, I don’t think we’ve been quite as clean, quite as efficient as we were a year ago. One of the nice things about bringing back almost exactly the same team is we know we can do it. Virtually the same group won 103 games last year and obviously was very dominant at times. I think we’ll get back to that.”

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