CHICAGO – The Cubs have this homebody thing down pretty well.
Now if they one day can become road warriors, maybe they’ll be onto something.
But for now, they’ll take what they can get, and Friday, they took a 6-2 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. The Cubs improved to 58-51 and pulled within a half-game of the idle St. Louis Cardinals (58-50) for first place in the National League Central.
Things are fine at Wrigley, where the Cubs are 37-18. Away from home, they’re a paltry 21-33, which led to the word “embarrassing” being tossed around.
What is it about Wrigley?
“It’s our fans,” said shortstop Javy Báez, who doubled twice and hit his 26th home run of the season. “But we’ve also got a lot of fans on the road. So it should be the same. Obviously, everybody wants to be home – your house and family and everybody – but we’ve got to compete. We’ve got to compete and take this to the road trip and compete pitch by pitch.
“We just get here and we relax. We let the game come to us. When we go on the road, we’ve got too much pressure to win the game before it’s over. It’s not like that. Same thing with first place. It goes up and down to the last two weeks of September. A lot of teams pay attention to that. They don’t see it, but it’s pressure for them. As long as you keep it that away, we should be good.”
The Cubs also got contributions from starting pitcher Jose Quintana (9-7) and from newly minted leadoff man Jason Heyward. Quintana turned in his 11th quality start, working six-plus innings and giving up seven hits and two runs. Heyward led off the bottom of the first with his 16th homer of the season. Báez hit a two-run homer in the Cubs’ three-run third against Brewers starter Zach Davies.
Both manager Joe Maddon and team president Theo Epstein praised Heyward for embracing the role of leadoff hitter. Heyward also figures to start a lot in center field with this week’s trade for right fielder Nicholas Castellanos.
“It’s about me wanting to make the most of my time playing baseball,” said Heyward, who has a line of .277/.354/.463. “Whatever works best for whatever team I’m on, I want to try to do that. Right now, that’s what they feel is best. Let’s go. Let’s not look around and see what works best for me. If it can be done, try and get it done. I just asked Joe to be patient with me on it and just give me a shot. Here we go.”
This was the Cubs’ first game back from a 3-6 road trip. Epstein was asked about comments he made on the radio about being “embarrassed” about the team’s road record.
“I said something along the lines of I think we’re all embarrassed by not having won a road series since May 20,” he said. “And we’ve lost every single road series against a division opponent this year. Seven series, seven series lost. As talented as we are, if we don’t fix that, we’re not going anywhere. It’s a huge priority for us.
“I just think trying the same thing over and over again when it’s not working is not a great solution. We try to look to shake some things up, either with our preparation or patterns or whether it’s time for more work, less work. But we have to try some different things. We tend to get some momentum when we get back home and everyone starts feeling better about the team. Maybe we get ahead of ourselves a little bit. We need to have a good homestand. We need to keep our optimism in check until we can go out there and prove it on the road. That’s where good teams make their mark.
“I think it’s important to be accountable. This isn’t good enough.”