September provides its own energy, or so Cubs manager Joe Maddon is fond of saying.
Well, here we are.
Maddon’s Cubs were shut out, 2-0, Saturday by the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field, but Maddon says he likes where his team is as September dawns.
“I really believe our guys are in a good place mentally right now,” said Maddon, whose team fell to 73-62 as its winning streak was snapped at four. “I loved the spirit before the game. It’s good. I love it in the clubhouse in the morning when you walk in.
“I have no issues. Our guys are going about their business properly. Today we lost, but we’ve been on a nice little run. I just want us to maintain that same method. If we can keep working good at-bats and force [opposing pitchers] over the plate, I’ll take it. I’ll absolutely take it. A little bit unlucky today, but that happens.”
The Brewers scored both of their runs in the first inning off Cole Hamels, who has been battling some mechanical issues, but who found some extra velocity Saturday and was able to throw 96 pitches for the game, 31 in the first inning.
Hamels has been through the September pennant stretch before. He said he likes where the Cubs stand, even though they enter the new month chasing the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.
“It’s great,” said Hamels, who fell to 7-5 with a 3.69 ERA. “We have a great team, and I know we’re going to add some guys (via minor-league call-ups), which are going to be a big help. It comes down to us and who wants it more. This division is not going to be easy. It was never going to be easy.
“You have to play really good games against the Cardinals. You have to play good games against Milwaukee. And you cannot take Pittsburgh and Cincinnati lightly because they’re good players. They’re trying to put up numbers for the future.
“It’s a matter of really grinding out the amount of games we have. We really have to come away with a good record on the road and at home. That’ll be the case to see who really makes it.”
The Brewers loaded the bases in the first inning on a leadoff double by Ben Gamel and a pair of walks before Manny Pina hit a two-run single.
Hamels settled down nicely after that. In his last three starts, he has an ERA of 3.71. He missed just over a month with an oblique strain, but when he got hurt, he had a 2.98 ERA.
“The past couple weeks, we’re just really trying to get a little bit more comfortable with some mechanical issues that [we] have been really trying to address and then just kind of building upon that,” he said. “Finally getting to a pitch count that’s kind of more customary, when you’re able to get to the 90- and 100-pitch mark and really just building off that.
“But the first inning just wasn’t really locating in the zone. I was just trying to really figure out what their game plan was because what they were able to do [Friday] versus some of the times that we normally face them. They’re pretty aggressive. It’s identifying it as quickly as possible without things getting out of control.”
Offensively, the Cubs didn’t do much against Brewers starter Zach Davies and four relievers, getting six hits. The Brewers’ also stymied the Cubs a few times with infield shifts. And neither the Cubs nor the Brewers were thrilled with home-plate umpire Rob Drake.
“We hit the ball actually pretty well today,” Maddon said. “That’s a tough shutout. Give them credit. Their defense, they do set up well. They have for a couple of years now. So you’ve got to give them credit on defense.
But overall, I can’t say that we swung the bats poorly because we didn’t. There was a lot of bad luck involved today. Once Cole settled down, he pitched actually really well. The bullpen was outstanding. They just got us today. We’ve just got to come back and play tomorrow.”