We're about to see what these Cubs are made of


At this point, the Cubs holding onto their fragile one-game lead in the division might feel more like trying to mount a comeback against Josh Hader. 

The arrows for the Cubs and Brewers are pointing in completely different directions with two-and-a-half weeks still remaining in the regular season.

But things aren't necessarily that dire for the Cubs. Yes, they still have another week to go in an absolutely ridiculous, brutal stretch. But if they can somehow get through that with their head above water, they'll be OK. 

After all, they do control their own destiny — two games up on the Brewers in the loss column and a heavy slate of games at Wrigley Field (where the Cubs are 45-26) to close out the season.

This next week will be crucial. We're about to see just how mentally — and physically — tough this Cubs team.

This Cubs offense right now is struggling enough even when they don't have to face Hader twice in a three-game span. Maddon keeps pointing to a lack of rest as the reason behind the struggles and even Kyle Hendricks — who is relentlessly positive — admitted to feeling the fatigue. 

And it doesn't get any better, as most of the Cubs had to get on a flight after Wednesday night's loss, get in about 4 a.m. ET, get a few hours sleep, go play a game, get back on a flight and get back to Chicago for a three-game series against a Reds team that now has Joey Votto back in the middle of that lineup.

As you've heard plenty by now, the Cubs' next off-day isn't for another week as they still have seven days left in a stretch of 30 in a row where they've had to show up to the ballpark for a full day's worth of work (or waiting).

"It's just a tough stretch, man," Maddon said. "Fatigue is nasty. When you get a tired mind, it's not easy to play at your top level. It's just not. We all know what it's like when you feel like your brain's swimming a little bit."

On a daily basis over the last week, Maddon has praised his players for how they've handled this tough stretch.

Yet, they certainly appear as if they've run into a wall.

The Cubs have lost four of their last five games at a time when the Brewers are on fire. If the Cubs hadn't started this stretch of games with a 7-1 record against a bunch of non-contenders (Tigers, Reds, Mets), they would be in a world of hurt right now. 

Offensively, this lineup badly misses Jason Heyward, which would've seemed like a crazy statement a year ago.

The struggles at the plate go far beyond the bottom of the order, though Albert Almora Jr., Willson Contreras, Addison Russell and Ian Happ have been in their respective ruts pretty much since the All-Star Break.

Daniel Murphy — who was heralded as a savior of this lineup when he first arrived — hasn't gotten a hit since Saturday and is in the midst of an 0-for-12 slump.

Anthony Rizzo hasn't had a hit in a week, going 0-for-16 in that span.

Javy Baez — the MVP candidate — hasn't driven in a run in 11 days.

Kyle Schwarber looked like he was about to get hot but has been unavailable with a back injury lately and did not make the trip to Washington D.C.

At least Kris Bryant is starting to look more like himself and Ben Zobrist is furthering his case as the NL Comeback Player of the Year.

The Cubs did have a bunch of solid at-bats Wednesday night and hit into some crummy luck, but those at-bats cratered when Brewers manager Craig Counsell boldly went to his bullpen in the fifth inning.

The Cubs bullpen, meanwhile, gave up 3 runs on 6 hits and 3 walks in 4 innings Wednesday night and looks to be running out of gas at the absolute wrong time.

The rotation has been the only saving grace of late with this team and figures to continue to be a strength assuming Jon Lester's balky back will allow him to make his scheduled start against Cincinnati over the weekend.

Hendricks turned in another solid outing Wednesday but had to be pulled early again in an effort to drum up some offense (Tommy La Stella, who pinch-hit for Hendricks, scored the Cubs' only run).

Maddon always says momentum in baseball depends on your next day's starting pitcher and that may be exactly what carries the Cubs the next week. While Mike Montgomery will head to D.C., Lester, Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels will all stay behind in Chicago to get a much-needed day of rest, so they should be fresh and raring to go this weekend at Wrigley and next week in Arizona.

If any team can withstand this kind of tough stretch, it's the Cubs, whose incredible depth will need to show out over the next week in a big way.

When they return from Arizona, they won't leave Chicago for the rest of the season, able to sleep soundly in their own beds for at least 11 consecutive nights. That's also when Heyward and Brandon Morrow could be returning to provide some late-season reinforcements.

And Rizzo is doing his part to keep things loose on the flight to D.C., dressing up in full uniform:

"It's a pretty bad scenario, for sure," Hendricks said. "But we've been through so much adversity. We've had some tough trips in the past. Even in playoffs, we've had a couple brutal travel days.

"So it's just more of the same for us. We've been through a lot. I think it just kinda makes you tougher in the end. So that's the approach we take.

"Don't count us out. [We're] kind of a little bit of an underdog. We'll make it through this stretch alright."

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