CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field was the antidote that the Cubs needed. Walking into the spacious circular home clubhouse provided a sense of relief, and seeing the raucous sea of red, white and blue in the stands was welcomed after a long and grueling road trip tested the club's character to
CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field was the antidote that the Cubs needed. Walking into the spacious circular home clubhouse provided a sense of relief, and seeing the raucous sea of red, white and blue in the stands was welcomed after a long and grueling road trip tested the club's character to start the season.
The energy that flowed from the stands to the field contributed to the first complete game turned in by the Cubs this season. And the 10-0 rout of the Pirates in Monday's home opener even included a layer of adversity -- Jon Lester exiting early with injury -- that the North Siders' embattled bullpen was able to overcome.
"It was a great day to come back to Chicago," Cubs shortstop Javier Báez said. "The fans, winning, our bullpen did a great job today. Hopefully that gets us back on track."
The surplus of offense was historic -- it marked the largest shutout victory in a home opener in franchise history -- but it was nothing new this season. It actually represented the fifth time in the first 10 games that the Cubs churned out at least 10 runs. The problem has been that the pitching staff had struggled to hold up its end, losing two of those double-digit showings.
So even with a 6-0 lead after two innings, familiar concerns crept in when Lester left in the top of the third with a left hamstring injury. The Cubs' relief corps entered the afternoon with an 8.37 ERA and a 16.4 percent walk rate (both ranked 29th in the Majors), and now the group was going to be tasked with handling seven innings of work.
The bullpen was up to the challenge in a performance that should lift the cast's confidence.
"We just need to get some kind of rhythm going down there," reliever Brandon Kintzler said. "When there's not a rhythm down there, no one knows what to really do. But now I think things are starting to settle down. Unfortunately, Jon had to get hurt a little bit for it to happen."
Kintzler followed Brad Brach's two shutout innings with a pair of scoreless frames of his own. Left-hander Randy Rosario then handled the seventh and eighth without any issues. The ninth was given to Pedro Strop, who avoided any drama with the help of a flashy game-ending double play started by Báez up the middle.
That gave the bullpen 12 consecutive shutout innings, dating back to the ninth inning on Saturday.
"The group needs that. They're all really good," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I want to believe that an afternoon like today is going to help build that confidence out there that they sorely need."
Overall, the hope for the Cubs will be that the win has the same impact across the whole team.
Chicago endured a 2-7 showing through Texas, Atlanta and Milwaukee to open the season. The bullpen was a mess, the rotation struggled and the lineup's impressive output went for naught more often than not. To that end, the Cubs have scored 72 runs through 10 games -- the team's largest total through a season's first 10 games since 1954. Per STATS, Chicago is only the fourth team since 1900 to have 10-plus runs in five of the first 10 games of a campaign.
"One of the things about the first week or so that we're really encouraged about is the way the offense has been going," Ben Zobrist said. "We want to keep that up. If we do that a lot, we're going to win a lot of games, because we know our pitching is going to do what they did today a lot more."
Coming home certainly helps.
"It was definitely a really long trip," Kintzler said. "There was a lot of negativity following you around. It's good to finally get home and have some people clapping for you."
Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.