'One-game streaks' Maddon's goal for Cubs
Down 2-0, club puts sole focus on winning Game 3 at Wrigley Field
NEW YORK -- So you think the Cubs need to grow up quickly?
Down 2-0 to the Mets in the National League Championship Series, their history of October futility following them home to Wrigley Field, you think that Joe Maddon's young hitters are about to get a little bit of on-the-job training, whether they want it or not?
Well, then you should have seen the Cubs after Noah Syndergaard mowed through them on Sunday night for a 4-1 victory, following the blueprint that Matt Harvey had laid out for him in Game 1. They were dressing like normal, with some players watching time tick off on the Sunday Night Football game on a clubhouse television.
They complimented the Mets for winning the first rounds, but it was clear they hadn't lost any of the spirit they built by winning 43 of their last 61 games before arriving in New York. The postseason wins in Pittsburgh and St. Louis weren't that long ago, after all.
This time last season, Kyle Schwarber was in the instructional league. He took an 0-for-4 against the powerful Syndergaard and reliever Tyler Clippard.
If anyone was going to hang his head or overreact to the defeat, it would be someone with as little experience as Schwarber. But he sounded like a much older head as he looked at life after the end of Jake Arrieta's winning streak, which had stretched over 15 starts since Cole Hamels' no-hitter on July 25.
"We're here for a reason,'' said the 22-year-old Schwarber. "We're a good ballclub. We know we're a good ballclub. We feel like we're one little thing away from exploding.''
In Game 3 of the NL Division Series against St. Louis, the Cubs did exactly that. They set a postseason record with six home runs, then wrapped up the series with three home runs the next night, including Schwarber's blast onto the top of the right-field video board at Wrigley Field.
These are the memories that are going to come back quickly when the Cubs return to Wrigley for Game 3 on Tuesday night (air time at 7:30 p.m. ET on TBS, game time at 8). They'll be facing Jacob deGrom, arguably the most consistent of the Mets' young guns, but they beat him twice in the first half of the season.
"deGrom's very good, but we're very good also at the plate,'' Maddon said. "We have a lot of confidence in our players and our hitters, and I'm really eager to get to the next game.''
Maddon says he wouldn't mind "15 more degrees Fahrenheit'' when the series shifts to Wrigley. The games at Citi Field put the Cubs in the coldest conditions they've played in since the Chicago spring, prompting Maddon to don a knit ski cap while several of his players wore balaclavas to keep the strong northwest winds off their faces.
But mostly what he wants is "several one-game winning streaks.'' He doesn't want his players trying to even the series in the next game -- just to cut the Mets' lead to two games to one, and then go from there.
"We're all about one-game winning streaks, very seriously,'' Maddon said. "I really preach daily the one-day-at-a-time approach. I know it's Psycho Babble 101, but it actually works. So all I'm concerned about is the next game.''
Maddon hasn't seen anything that concerns him, except maybe the magic in Daniel Murphy's bat. The difference in the first two games has been Curtis Granderson and Murphy, the Mets' Nos. 1 and 3 hitters, outproducing Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant, the only Cubs to have done much of anything at the plate.
Murphy's two-run homer down the right-field line in the first inning, lifted off the ground on an Arrieta pitch that couldn't be called a mistake, gave him five homers in the Mets' seven postseason games, including one in each of the last four games.
"The guy's just really seeing the ball well,'' Maddon said. "So I don't know so much that it was a lack of Jake's ability as much as it was a pretty hot hitter.''
There was no getting out of the hole that the Cubs fell into it when the Mets went ahead, 3-0, in the first inning. There was a momentary stir in the visiting dugout when Chris Coghlan put a charge into a pitch from Syndergaard in the second inning, but Granderson dropped back to the wall, jumped and caught the ball, which seemed headed for the bullpen.
Anthony Rizzo noted that Granderson was playing Coghlan deep, unlike Fowler on David Wright in the top of the first. Fowler ran and ran but couldn't catch up to the high fly from Wright that sailed over him, scoring Granderson after he had lined an Arrieta pitch through the shift for a leadoff single.
Granderson has scored two runs and driven in two more in the series. Murphy is 3-for-7 with the two home runs and a very interesting intentional walk, as it brought Yoenis Cespedes to the plate in the third inning. That's how much Maddon has come to respect the locked-in Murphy.
But there's a long way to go in this series, and even further in October.
"We need to win eight more games, and they need to win six more,'' Rizzo said, looking at the ultimate goal, the championship, and not merely a pennant and ticket into the World Series.
"We're really looking forward to getting back home,'' said Schwarber, who has homered 36 times in 151 games in the Minors and Majors this season, including four in the postseason. "We're really focusing on Game 3, really focusing on trying win that game.''
Maddon couldn't have said it any better.
A one-game winning streak doesn't sound like much, but for the Cubs, it would sure make things interesting when they go in search of the next one-game winning streak.
Psycho babble? No, that's just Maddon, reminding his players to not let the pressure exceed the pleasure, no matter the situation.