After Saturday’s late loss to the Dodgers ran their losing streak to four straight, the usually dependable Jake Arrieta takes the mound tonight at Dodger Stadium with a chance to bookend the trip with a win.
Arrieta won the opener against the Giants on Tuesday, opening up a 7 1/2 game lead over San Francisco. The Cubs’ chances of catching the Pirates for the top wild-card spot and a home game at Wrigley Field are fading. They’re now 6 games behind the Bucs, and 9 1/2 behind the division-leading Cardinals.
“It’s been a tough trip -- the 2,000 miles and two hours (time difference) have kicked our butt a little bit so hopefully we can pull this out (Sunday),” manager Joe Maddon said after the loss. “Tomorrow’s a one-sies road trip going back home, which is always spectacular.
“So win-or-lose, it’s kind of like having a Win-Or-Weep dance -- you still do it anyway. Win-Or-Weep: you have a party regardless if you win or lose.”
Maddon’s theme trip will have players donning pajamas and one-sies after the game for the long flight to O’Hare. It’s a new twist on an old idea, and traditionally, the Cubs haven’t fared well in games before costume trips, which often involved a rookie hazing ritual.
Since the days of Dusty Baker, the Cubs traditionally go into these costume trips with a loss.
- Back in 2006, after Scott Eyre blew a game in Cincinnati, broadcaster Ron Santo fumed at the players dressing up and laughing at their costumes after the loss. The Cubs were playing out the string, and everyone knew Baker was about to be let go.
- In 2009, after a loss to the Brewers at Wrigley, manager Lou Piniella left the media sitting in the postgame interview room known as the Dungeon. Piniella was upset over the game and the silly costumes, and sent a media relations person into the room to say the manager would not conduct his daily briefing. Moments later, Milton Bradley held a contentious session with the media while outfielder Sam Fuld dressed up as Wonder Woman a few feet away.
- In 2011, the final days for manager Mike Quade and some of his staff, pitcher Randy Wells, a Cardinals fan growing up, coughed up a late lead against St. Louis in Busch Stadium. Infielder Darwin Barney fumed over a politically incorrect costume he was forced to wear, and again some coaches and players were apprehensive about dressing up after a loss during a tense time.
- In July of 2012, after being outscored 23-1 in a three-game sweep by the Cardinals at Busch Stadium, manager Dale Sveum oversaw a superhero-themed trip that was pitcher Matt Garza’s idea. Sveum got into the act, dressing as “Hellboy” with his face painted red. But veteran Alfonso Soriano fumed and said he was “not happy” after having to dress up as Batman, and one of the coaches refused to dress up. Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker made up for the party poopers by dressing as Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. They even walked around with cell phones glued to their ears, joking there “were so traded” for the stunt.
If Arrieta is on his game, the Cubs can have a happy flight in their one-sies and PJs, though he’ll need some support. True, the Cubs have faced some strong starting pitching the last four days, but if they want to get far in the postseason, this is the kind of pitching they’re going to see.
They’ve hit a combined .149 and scored six runs in the four-game losing streak with 49 strikeouts and only one home run -- by Anthony Rizzo.
Outside of Arrieta and Jon Lester, the rotation has had a subpar August.
- Newly acquired Dan Haren is 1-2 with a 6.31 earned-run average since arriving, with an .881 OPS against. Haren has served up eight home runs in 25 2/3 innings, an alarming rate.
- Kyle Hendricks followed up an impressive July with a bad August. Though he’s won two of three decisions in five starts, he has a .781 OPS against and 5.40 ERA.
- Jason Hammel hasn’t been the same since experiencing a sharp pain in the back of his left knee in a start against the Cardinals on July 8th, forcing him to leave after one inning with hamstring tightness. Hammel posted a 2.86 ERA in his first 17 starts, but is only 1-1 with a 4.88 ERA in August, with an .865 OPS against. He’s has pitched into the seventh inning once over his last nine starts.
The Cubs aren’t too concerned, but obviously they’ll have to play better.
“I wouldn’t say (it’s) concerning,” Lester said. “Obviously it’s not how we wanted to come out here and play, especially against these two teams. But we’ve played so well here lately.
“It’s not like we’ve played bad baseball either. We’re not killing ourselves with errors. The games aren’t lopsided by any means. Our pitching staff is doing a good job of keeping us in the ball games. We’re just on the other end right now. We’ve all seen how quickly that can change to get back into the other side. Keep grinding it out and hopefully tomorrow we can salvage and end the road trip on a good note at least.”
Freelance writer Curtis Zupke contributed to this report