Cubs find trou­bles af­ter World Se­ries ti­tle

Na­tion­als’ foe lacks con­sis­tency

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY MATTHEW PARAS

Base­ball hasn’t had a team win back-to-back World Se­ries since the New York Yan­kees did it three times from 1998-2000.

De­spite that, Na­tion­als man­ager Dusty Baker isn’t ready to say there’s a nat­u­ral let­down for World Se­ries cham­pi­ons the fol­low­ing year.

“I think there’s a short win­ter,” Baker said. “You’ve got a very short win­ter. You’ve got a very short win­ter on your pitch­ing staff be­cause while every­body’s rest­ing in the month of Oc­to­ber and in Novem­ber now, you’re still play­ing. When you do win, it’s not usu­ally un­til De­cem­ber that you feel like work­ing out. If you take a month off or two weeks off, you’re look­ing at De­cem­ber.

“You get the rub­ber chicken cir­cuit, every­body wants a piece of you, every­body wants to cel­e­brate with you and peo­ple all around. Next thing you know, it’s time to go to spring train­ing and you don’t have that much time to re­group phys­i­cally and men­tally.”

On Mon­day night the Na­tion­als be­gan a four game home-stand against a team that ap­pears to be in the mid­dle of a World Se­ries hang­over — the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs are just 38-37 and have floated around .500 all year. At this point last sea­son, Chicago was 49-26.

With a core of Kris Bryant, An­thony Rizzo, Ad­di­son Russell and Javier Baez, many in base­ball felt the Cubs could dom­i­nate for years.

But de­fend­ing a World Se­ries crown is in­cred­i­bly tough. The Yan­kees made the fi­nale for a fourth straight year in 2001, but lost.

The 2009 Phillies are the most re­cent team to have won the World Se­ries and make it back the next

year. But Philadel­phia fell short in its bid to re­peat.

The Cubs haven’t found any con­sis­tency this year. As a pitch­ing unit, Chicago is third in the Na­tional League (NL) with a 3.92 ERA, but starters Jake Ar­ri­eta and John Lackey have strug­gled. Ar­ri­eta has lost about 2 mph off the ve­loc­ity of his fast­ball and has a 4.36 ERA af­ter last year’s 3.10. At 38, Lackey has a ca­reer-high 5.54 FIP, which mea­sures how ef­fec­tive pitch­ers are at prevent­ing home runs, walks and hit by pitches while caus­ing strike­outs.

Chicago’s hit­ting, mean­while, is fail­ing to de­liver in timely mo­ments. Cubs man­ager Joe Mad­don has been tin­ker­ing with line­ups all year, try­ing to find a lead-off hit­ter af­ter Dex­ter Fowler signed with St. Louis in free agency. The Cubs are bat­ting just .240, sec­ond to last in the NL.

Backup catcher Miguel Mon­tero, though, said the idea of a World Se­ries hang­over is an ex­cuse.

“We’ve just got to play the game and be who we are,” Mon­tero said. “We have to kick every­body’s ass or they kick our ass. … The guys are that are com­ing to play, I can still see they’re still hun­gry. They want more. I love that.”

The Na­tion­als-Cubs four-game se­ries should serve as a good mea­sur­ing stick for both teams — and per­haps a pre­view of an up­com­ing post­sea­son show­down. Mon­tero called the Na­tion­als the best team in the league.

Baker re­mem­bered ask­ing Hall of Famer Larry Doby when he started to pre­pare for the up­com­ing base­ball sea­son.

“My thought was spring train­ing, and he told me you start get­ting ready a cou­ple weeks af­ter the sea­son’s over,” Baker said. “There are times dur­ing the win­ter you don’t feel like work­ing out, but you do it. There are times when you don’t feel like play­ing, but you do it. It’s syn­ony­mous to pre­par­ing your­self for the grind, the marathon that’s ahead of you.”

Mon­tero said prepa­ra­tion wasn’t an is­sue, but added maybe ear­lier in the sea­son they were go­ing through the mo­tions. With the All-Star break just weeks away, Mon­tero said the Cubs are fo­cused now.

Mon­tero dis­missed the idea the Cubs are feel­ing pres­sure to turn it around.

“Pres­sure? We’re the world champs, man,” Mon­tero said. “They should be pres­sured.”

Na­tion­als sec­ond base­man Daniel Mur­phy noted the strength of the Cubs, but tried to down­play the sig­nif­i­cance of a four-game se­ries near the end of June.

As for the con­cept of a World Se­ries hang­over, Mur­phy didn’t en­ter­tain the pos­si­bil­ity.

“I don’t know. I’ve never won one,” Mur­phy said.

Mur­phy and the Na­tion­als are hop­ing they can find out. There are still months to go be­fore the fin­ish line in late Oc­to­ber — but in this marathon so far, the Cubs and the Na­tion­als are run­ning vastly dif­fer­ent races.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als pitcher Gio Gon­za­lez faced the World Se­ries cham­pi­ons Chicago Cubs on Mon­day night.

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