But unlike the final month of the 2018 season, the Cubs have found enough resources to overcome stingy pitching and setbacks such as Anthony Rizzo’s back stiffness that could sideline him until this weekend.
Performances such as Kyle Hendricks’ eight innings of three-hit ball have exemplified manager Joe Maddon’s slogan of “you must pitch better to beat good pitching.”
Defensive gems provided by center fielder Albert Almora Jr. and second baseman Daniel Descalso supplemented the work of Hendricks, who smacked a two-run double with two outs in the second inning to vault the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the Reds for their third consecutive win and their 13th triumph in their last 15 games.
“I think we’re all learning contemporary lessons with what’s going on right now,” manager Joe Maddon said of the recent run by the Cubs (25-14) after a 3-8 start.
Hendricks (3-4) retired the first 10 batters before Joey Votto hit a home run to snap his streak of 19 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.
Hendricks didn’t allow a walk until the ninth, and he lowered the starting pitchers’ ERA to 2.21 in their last 28 games.
After relieving Hendricks in the ninth, Kyle Ryan induced Votto to hit a shallow fly to left, and Steve Cishek earned his third save.
“This is the baseball we were expecting to play,” Hendricks said after pitching at least eight innings for the third consecutive start and collecting the first three-hit game of his career. “(The season) did start early. The focus was there early. A couple things just didn’t go our way, and we stuck with the mindset and going pitch-to-pitch and just focusing on the ‘W’ that day. We’ve done a good job with that. The lineup is grinding out at-bats and grinding down the opposing pitcher.”
In the second, Descalso astutely dropped a bunt toward third base for a hit with two outs, and Almora followed with a single to set up Hendricks’ drive well over the head of center fielder Nick Senzel.
With one out in the fifth, Almora leaped in front of the 387-foot sign in left-center field to rob Derek Dietrich of an extra-base hit. That play loomed large as Jose Igesias and Tanner Roark followed with hits.
With two on, Descalso made a diving stop toward second but initially didn’t get a firm grip to toss to second. But he remained calm while recovering in time to throw to first, where Kris Bryant made a clean scoop of a one-hop throw to retire Tucker Barnhart for the final out.
Bryant, who extended his streak of reaching base safely to 23 consecutive games with an infield hit in the first, hit a double in the fifth and scored on a sacrifice fly by Willson Contreras.
Before the game, Cubs President Theo Epstein didn’t make any declarations but was pleased with the manner in which the Cubs have recovered after their miserable start.
“There’s real focus each day on doing what’s necessary to put our best foot forward and try to win,” Epstein said. “That’s something the players get credit, and Joe and the coaching staff. It has to come together, and then you have to find a way to maintain it all year long through the ups and downs, especially this year given the small margin for error that every National League club’s going to have.
“So, we didn’t get out of the starting blocks the way we wanted to, but we found our stride. Now, it’s a matter of really maintaining it.”
Facing Castillo (1.76 ERA) on Thursday, three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Scherzer and three-time NL All-Star Strasburg in Washington this weekend and former teammate and 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner Arrieta present more challenges the Cubs accept.
“It doesn’t matter who is going out there against us,” Kyle Schwarber said. “If we keep putting in the way we know we can in our at-bats, good things are going to happen.
“I don’t think we’re fazed by names. We control the way we go out there and play the game.”
Rizzo also was encouraged with the strides made since the first 11 games.
“To bounce back after that start …,” Rizzo said. “Day in and day out, we’re in in a position to win a game. It’s a credit to our pitching staff, first and foremost, and our bullpen. Our position players are scoring runs and giving us a chance to win games.”