WASHINGTON – You might be looking at the Cubs’ record and their inconsistent play to date.
The Cubs are looking at the standings. They’re looking at the National League Central. They’re looking at the calendar.
All three of those things are working in the defending champions’ favor as they try to hold their own until the reinforcements come off the disabled list.
In the meantime, they’ll gladly take victories such as Thursday’s 5-4 thriller over the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park.
The Cubs bullpen blew a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh, temporarily spoiling a solid 6-inning start by Jon Lester. Normally reliable Carl Edwards Jr. was charged with all three runs.
But in the ninth, the Cubs rallied for three against Nats reliever Blake Treinen, as Tommy La Stella got the Cubs closer with an RBI single, and Jon Jay put the Cubs ahead with a 2-run double to the gap in right-center.
Before that, youngster Jeimer Candelario took one for the team, getting hit on the left knee by a pitch. (He stayed in the game and an X-ray was negative.) Candelario had put the Cubs ahead, 2-1, with his first major-league homer in the seventh.
The difference between victory and defeat was psychologically uplifting for the Cubs, who not only split the four-game series with the tough Nationals but headed for Cincinnati with a record of 40-39 instead of 39-40.
“It’s good to see the freshmen and the sophomores coming through today,” said manager Joe Maddon. “The frosh had a good day. They have to know they can do that. We have to know that we can do that. Guys that have not been here a long time, they need to take, I don’t want to say the leadership role, but they’ve got to get to that next level of, ‘I belong here. I can do this. I want to win.’ They are the ones who are going to influence those kinds of results.”
Jay is a veteran, and La Stella is a young veteran. La Stella came off the bench in the ninth as a pinch hitter and lined a single into left center to drive in the rally’s first run.
“I think everybody in this clubhouse has the utmost confidence in one another,” La Stella said.
Lester worked six innings of three-hit, one-run ball. Like most Cubs, he has his eyes on the standings. The Cubs entered the day a game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the Central.
The Cubs are deeper than the Brewers, and they have better pitching. They’re trying to stay close until players such as Kyle Hendricks, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward come off the disabled list. Third baseman Kris Bryant is nursing a sore ankle, and he didn’t play Thursday. Kyle Schwarber is at Triple-A Iowa working on his swing, and he could be back to help.
“Yeah, 100 percent,” Lester said. “Obviously, the record is not where we should be or where we want to be, but at the same time, we’re only a half-game out or one game out. I think that’s what we have to try to focus on, is we’re right in everything. We’re a week away from being back in first place. We just got to worry about each individual day. Today was a good day, a lot of good at-bats. We pitched pretty well, and we’ll move on to Cincy.”
Maddon sounded a familiar theme on this subject.
“Honestly, I know our record is not the best, but our position in the standings is great,” he said. “So I’ll take that right now over the record. Either way, you want to be in first place. We’re handy right now. The floaties are on, and the boys got it done today.”