Cubs: Division Rivals Provide More Challenges After Disappointing West Coast Trip

Ed. note – Welcome new WARR contributor Justin Dukes to the crew. Justin will cover the Chicago Cubs and their developments through the remainder of the season.

Not that long ago, the Chicago Cubs were holding up a recent 7-2 record during a strong stretch at home, they came out of that ready to head West with light-hearted suits on, but the Cubbies ode to classic comedy wound up playing out as full-blown tragedy in a forgettable six-game losing streak by way of the L.A. Dodgers and San Diego Padres.

Fully aware of the now longest losing streak during his stint as Cubs manager, it wasn’t surprising to hear manager Joe Maddon dismiss any and all hands reaching for the panic button.

Returning to Wrigley field for a much-needed home stretch Friday, the Cubs find themselves facing their division rival in the St. Louis Cardinals who have a slim 1 game lead on Chicago in the bunched-up NL Central. The Cubs made good in Game 1 with a 3-2 victory off 7 strong innings from John Lackey and two clutch RBIs from Jason Hayward.

Coincidentally, Hayward’s efforts helped overshadow the moment for the other half in the delayed outfielder exchange between these eternal rivals — Dexter Fowler came back home to get his ring and took Lackey yard to lead off the game in celebration but his former team got the last laugh.

Rivalry Less Than Hard-Hitting

Friday’s contest gave proof that while both the Cards and Cubs have been receiving steady pitching, they both could use some consistent hitting. In particular, Infielder Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and outfielder Kyle Schwarber of the Cubs have had the most noteworthy woes as of late at the plate.

Acting possibly as a mental chess move by Maddon, his placing Schwarber as the lead-off hitter this season to inspire confidence may not have been the best idea for a ball club with high aspirations in a title defense campaign. The team as a whole needs an adjustment, and indirectly placing a bulk of that belief on the shoulders of this second-year player is ambitious in a sense, but poorly-timed.

Seemingly working their way out of their hitting struggles after a 2-1 win over the Dodgers Wednesday that also featured Fowler stepping up on offense, the Cardinals continued their positive play with a 2-0 shutout Thursday. St. Louis looked like a surging team coming into Friday but they leave it with their third straight game with only 2 runs, the Cards haven’t scored more than 4 runs since beating the Dodgers 6-1 back on May 24.

“Keep grinding. Keep competing. Focus on the positive,” outfielder Jason Heyward told ESPN reporters after their loss Tuesday to the Dodgers, which proceeded the minor win streak.

Going in to Friday, the one thing the Cubs can still hold on to is that they definitely have a talented team, which is why criticism directed to them has been so steep.

With a team facing similar obstacles in the opposite dugout this weekend, the Cubs simply can’t be the team to flinch first and they can avoid that with their hitters being efficient and aggressive early. The NL Central is clearly up for grabs, and it’s just a matter of what team can find their rhythm before the others.

Justin Dukes is a Chicago-based sports writer, follow him on Twitter @1kingzdream.

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