CHICAGO – The Cubs have gotten an eyeful of the Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers this year.
So how do the defending world champions stack up against the best from the National League East and NL West, respectively?
Right now, they don’t.
The Cubs let one get away to the Nationals on Sunday. They led, 4-1, entering the seventh inning but allowed two runs in the seventh and five more in the eighth, with the crushing blow being Matt Wieters’ grand slam off reliever Carl Edwards Jr. The Nats went on to win, 9-4.
Even with the loss, the Cubs (58-52) maintained their half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central. The Brewers lost Sunday to Tampa Bay.
Assuming the Cubs make the playoffs, their likely first-round opponent will be the Nationals (65-44), who won four of the seven between the teams this year. The Cubs were 2-4 against the Dodgers, who are setting a torrid pace.
So the matchups don’t look good, but one prominent Cub insisted that doesn’t matter in August.
“I don’t really care how we stack up,” said pitcher Jon Lester, who started Sunday and went 6 2/3 innings, getting a no-decision. “We’ve got to worry about us. Really all it comes down to is getting in, and once you get in, it doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s about who gets hot and who plays the best.
“Everything starts back at zero. Now it’s a matter of trying to win that series. As far as matching up or stacking up against teams, I could care less. We’ve got to worry about us.”
There are some things to worry about.
The Cubs again didn’t play particularly good defense, committing two errors and making some questionable decisions. Their bullpen, which has been good most of the year, has been leaky of late. The relievers gave up four of the Nats’ 10 hits and six of their runs.
Before the game, manager Joe Maddon was asked about the streaking Dodgers, who would play the wild-card winner if the season ended today.
“I really believe that as we get ourselves together and play like we’re capable of, I’m very pleased and confident about playing them or anybody else,” he said. “I normally don’t worry about what other people are doing. I look at it, evaluate it. But I’m more concerned about our starting pitching pitching better or our bullpen throwing strikes. I believe we can beat anybody. But we have to play our best game to beat them, absolutely.”
Sunday’s game illustrated Maddon’s point perfectly.
“We can play with anybody; we’ve just got to finish it off,” he said afterward. “You have to play a complete game to beat them, and you can’t show any signs of weakness. Your whole group has to contribute. And we were. We contributed well until the very end. We’re still maybe the second-ranked, possibly the third-ranked bullpen in the National League. We’re still really good.
“Our guys nailed it in the first half (of the season). For whatever reason in the second half, the starters have come on, and the bullpen guys have taken a little bit of a hit. But I like the names. They’re not too tired. I think they’re in good shape. We have really good matchups. We added Justin Wilson to the mix. I like it. It was just one of those unfortunate moments today. I want to keep their confidence going. With a guy like CJ (Edwards), get him in, get him out with some success and eventually they get back to who they are.”
The loss ruined another big day by catcher Willson Contreras, who hit two homers, giving him 21 for the season. Kyle Schwarber added his 18th, right after Contreras led off the sixth with a blast.
“It doesn’t count for the team,” Contreras said. “We still lost the game. I don’t care if I hit two home runs. I feel disappointed.”