If the Cubs weren’t 10 games in front of their closest competitor in the division, then there might be more concern over some things that stood out in the defeat.
“I just think we got pitched at really well today,” manager Joe Maddon said of Atlanta’s Bud Norris. “[If] he pitches like that against a lot of teams, he would win.”
If the Cubs weren’t 41-18, Maddon might finally decide a change in the batting order could be warranted after No. 2 hitter Jason Heyward struck out three more times and went 0-for-4.
“Sometimes when they have it, they have it,” Heyward said of the opposing starter.
Heyward was way off at the plate, swinging through pitches against Norris, who was 1-7 with a 5.28 ERA before shutting down the Cubs over seven innings. Norris struck out six without walking anyone. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was just the third time this season the Cubs failed to earn at least one free pass in a game.
“After an off day, sometimes it’s tough bat-wise,” Heyward said.
If the Cubs weren’t 24-12 against sub-.500 teams and 17-6 against plus-.500 ones, then maybe the former record would get more attention. Twelve games over .500 is still really good, but considering how well the Cubs have played at times, it’s probably perplexing they’ve lost that many to cellar dwellers.
“I’m not concerned about that component about it at all,” Maddon said of playing down to the opponent.
To be fair, Maddon has expressed some concern over playing up and down to the opponent in the past, but like Heyward, he simply thought Norris would have beaten many teams on Friday. Maybe so.
“We didn’t kick the ball around, we didn’t give away at-bats,” Heyward said. “We didn’t come out flat mentally.”
If the division lead was smaller, there might be more concern with some bullpen members who either continue to struggle or have been trending that way. Justin Grimm saw his ERA (5.57) rise again after giving up two hits and a walk without recording an out. That’s not far from what happened in Philadelphia a few days earlier, though this time he was pulled before giving up a long ball.
Clayton Richard picked up where Grimm left off, giving up a run-scoring single and a long sacrifice fly in the eighth inning before getting out of the jam. But the damage was done as a 3-1 Braves lead ballooned to 5-1.
“Baseball is a crazy game,” Cubs starter Jason Hammel said. “Any night any team can win.”
Hammel gave up back-to-back home runs in the second inning -- the first time the Braves have accomplished that all year -- and took just his second loss this season.
“Save for two pitches, it went pretty well,” he said. “Bud threw a really good game.”
The Cubs’ record to this point combined with Norris’ night allows them some leeway, but does it erase any of these issues? Should it? Richard might be on thin ice, but the feeling is Grimm and Heyward will find their games before long and all will be right again. Or maybe the Cubs simply won’t face a pitcher on top of his game tomorrow.
If that’s the case, none of this other stuff will matter. Or will it?