DENVER – Five weeks into the season, you’re a defending champion with a mediocre record, coming off an 18-inning loss, a home sweep at the hands of the Yankees, and next up is a series at pitcher-crushing Coors Field with a tapped bullpen.
So what do you do?
No. 1, pray for rain.
And, No. 2, if you’re the Cubs, make a T-shirt.
“As Miggy wants me to put on a T-shirt: `DWI. Deal with it,’ “ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, referring to veteran catcher Miguel Montero. “So that’s something we may do in the near future.”
Look for it at a Cub friendly web site near you – which will make the Cubs 2-for-2 in their Monday objectives, having had their prayers answered with a Monday night postponement less than 20 hours after the Cubs and Yankees played the longest interleague game in history.
Monday’s rainout – after a one-hour, 16-minute delay – creates a day-night doubleheader Tuesday, at 1:10 p.m. and 7:40 p.m.
Monday’s scheduled starter Jake Arrieta slides to Tuesday afternoon, against Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela (4-1, 2.84 ERA).
“When you go to Colorado, you’re always looking, hopefully, to have some kind of a rested bullpen,” Maddon said before the game, looking at the downpour from the visitors dugout at Coors Field.
Maddon not only has an extra day of rest for his depleted bullpen, but he also has a ninth relief pitcher – with right-hander Dylan Floro added Monday night when the Cubs put outfielder Jason Heyward on the disabled list (sprained finger).
Stay tuned for a 10th reliever Tuesday as the rules of doubleheader engagement allow teams to add 26th players to their roster for the day.
The Cubs’ bullpen was forced to throw 19 2/3 innings combined the past two games, because Sunday’s marathon followed starter Brett Anderson’s injury-shortened start Saturday, when he failed to get out of the first inning.
By the time the Cubs arrived in Denver Monday morning, the sun was rising.
“You feel like you have that hangover without the benefits of actually drinking,” Maddon said.
He joked. And he refused to complain about the circumstances that have dropped his 16-15 team and its bedraggled pitching staff into these especially unfriendly confines for pitchers.
But consider the recent events:
–After a Sunday night game in Boston a week earlier, the Cubs returned home to open a seven-game homestand with a 1:25 rain delay on Monday;
–They finished that series against the Phillies with an extra-inning game Thursday, followed two days later by Anderson’s short start; followed Sunday by the longest game at Wrigley Field since an 18-inning game against the Astros in 1986.
–One game after a catcher, Montero, pitched a scoreless inning of relief, three starting pitchers were needed as pinch-hitters Sunday: Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks each striking out.
–The game “Sunday” lasted more than six hours and ended at 1:14 a.m. with Hendricks’ K.
–That game set a major-league record with 48 combined strikeouts – five more than the Angels and Athletics combined to produce in a 1971 game.
“Everybody goes through it,” Maddon said, only slightly exaggerating. “I really don’t want us to be that group that makes excuses.”
Anthony Rizzo, who played the final nine innings Sunday after getting hit near the left wrist by a 99-mph fastball from Aroldis Chapman, certainly had a right to complain, but called this stretch, “just part of the game.”
“The schedule’s been really weird,” Rizzo said of the first five weeks. “But it’s part of it. We knew it. Nothing’s sneaking up on us. We knew what was ahead of us. You just keep playing baseball.”
The best they can hope for at this point is a normalization of the season after the Red Sox at Fenway, the Yankees at home, the Cardinals to open the season, a banner raising before the home opener and countless ring ceremonies.
“The tough one would be rings and banners,” Maddon said of the emotional part of the early schedule.
But, he added, “Nothing’s caving in. It’s just we didn’t win two games [with chances to win against the Yankees]. If we were playing our best ball and we were having this kind of a 50-50 struggle, I would be more concerned.”