SAN FRANCISCO -- The interesting thing about the Chicago Cubs' 4-2 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night is it was the kind of a game that should have been the norm for them this season, not the exception.
Think about it.
Young players made mistakes, a less-than-perfectly-aligned roster had defensive issues in the outfield. and the Cubs offense sputtered after scoring early. That's what the 2015 Cubs should have been about: going back and forth with a .500-ish record. But we know now they're much better than that, so when they play a sloppy game, it stands out.
"We have some really inexperienced people learning on the fly right now," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "There is nothing to be worried about or talk negatively about."
Negative talk would be if the Cubs were having these types of games over and over without signs of improvement. So when Addison Russell misplays a ground ball that plates a run, or key guys such as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber are unable to come through at the plate with men on base, it's a blip, not a season-long pattern.
Schwarber looked bad striking out against tough sidearm lefty Javier Lopez in a key moment in the seventh inning, but when would Schwarber have faced a pitcher like him in the minors or in college? Same with Corey Kluber earlier this week. The answer is never.
"It is a learning process," Schwarber said. "When you face these guys again, you get an idea."
Actually, it was the second time Schwarber has faced the nasty southpaw, having singled home a run off him at Wrigley Field earlier this month. This time, Lopez got him.
"Our young guys are being schooled a bit," Maddon said. "And I love it. It's a good training ground for down the road this year."
That's the kind of thing you can say with a 6½-game lead in the playoff race. For now, the Cubs get a break from the usual overanalysis of a loss. Take Russell, for example: He just got back from paternity leave after two days off. It's a playoff environment. He's slow to pick up the ball off the bat of Juan Perez and allows the runner on first to beat the force while Matt Duffy crosses the plate, tying the game in the first inning.
"It was hit a little softer than I anticipated," Russell said.
Later, he strikes out with two on in the seventh as reliever Hunter Strickland challenged him with fastballs. You'll excuse him if he didn't have his best day after the birth of his first child, followed by flying to town late on Tuesday night. In between those rough moments, Russell made a highlight-reel grab and quick turn to start a double play. After all, he's still Addison Russell.
"If we don't come through, maybe we get them next time," Russell stated. "We're getting tested. That's what we came here to do."
Russell gets a break because he's earned it, while the Cubs have passed all the prior tests so far this season. It didn't work out for just the fifth time this month, and with Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw looming, they could have a couple more rough days ahead -- but you better believe they'll learn and be better for it. There's the silver lining in a defeat these days: It still benefits them and doesn't torpedo them in the standings.
Starter Kyle Hendricks summed up the atmosphere against the World Champions, who are just 1-5 against the Cubs this year:
"I grew up a Giants fans," he said. "I've been to a lot of games here growing up. Great fans. It gets loud. It's fun to pitch in."
And with every pitch, the Cubs are learning what it takes to be champions themselves. It could have gone a lot different this year. They could be the team chasing the playoff contenders heading into September and no one would be surprised.
Wednesday was the exception, not the norm.