Manager David Ross said his time away from the Cubs helped him to see a few things about his team. Namely, it was easier for him to notice on TV how much fun it looked like his guys were having, as well as how much they battled at the plate, even in games they trailed.
”They grind, and they know they’re in it,” said Ross, who was away from the team for the last nine days after testing positive for COVID-19. ”We’ve got some talent up there. They put together at-bats through and through.”
Having fun and battling only goes so far when you’re outmatched, however. The Cubs lost 6-5 to the Giants on Sunday. The defeat completed a weekend sweep by the Giants, who have the best record in the majors at 93-50.
Still, Ross said he was pleased with the effort from his offense. The Cubs’ batters had nine hits and stuck close throughout the game.
”Up and down the lineup, guys are competing,” Ross said. ”When you get good pitching, then you’re in those ballgames. You end up winning most of those.”
Starter Justin Steele yielded a career-high 11 hits and five runs in five innings. Steele walked only two batters, but he and Ross agreed that command was an issue all afternoon.
Ross said he thought Steele might have been rushing his delivery a bit, and Steele said he thought he got behind in too many at-bats. Both might have been partially the product of facing the toughest team in baseball.
”They have the best record in baseball for a reason,” Steele said. ”But it still doesn’t take away from the fact that I need to execute pitches more often, make better pitches.”
Steele said he thought he had a good feel for his curveball and slider, but he wasn’t getting strike one with his fastball, which made the difference. There was a silver lining to his outing, however: At 101 pitches, it was by far his longest start in the majors.
”It’s part of the process,” Steele said. ”It’s part of the work as a starter. You’ve gotta be able to go 100 pitches sometimes; you’ve gotta grind through outings. That was one of those today. You’ve just gotta grind through with what you’ve got.”
Ross’ lineup worked to come from behind, especially in the late innings. In the seventh, the Cubs got within a run after having trailed 6-3. Sergio Alcantara led off with a walk and scored on a double by David Bote. Bote then scored on a single by pinch hitter Robinson Chirinos.
After Rafael Ortega struck out, Frank Schwindel and Ian Happ singled to load the bases. But Willson Contreras and Alfonso Rivas struck out to end the rally. Contreras took strike three with the count full and argued with plate umpire Lance Barrett that the pitch was too far inside. When Contreras went back into the dugout, he broke his bat against a wall in frustration.
After Steele left the game, Cubs relievers Codi Heuer and Rowan Wick combined to allow one run in four innings. Since coming over from the White Sox at the trade deadline in the deal that sent closer Craig Kimbrel to the South Side, Heuer has a 1.23 ERA, four holds and one save. Wick, meanwhile, hasn’t given up a run since Sept. 2.
”We came close today, but it was strictly because of how the bullpen came in and shut things down,” Ross said. ”That’s what great pitching does, put up zeros. The guys continue to fight, you end up winning a lot of those. And we have lately.”