CLEVELAND — The clubhouse after the game against the Indians this time around was a lot less crowded, much more subdued. Just quiet strains of Bob Marley from the speakers and occasional clanking of silverware from the tables where Cubs players ate.
But the biggest difference between the raucous, champagne-sprayed scene 18 months ago and the lack of a scene Wednesday in the same place might simply be the difference between glorious finishes and humble beginnings.
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The Cubs lost 4-1 to split a two-game series in their first trip back to Progressive Field since their historic World Series clincher in 2016.
But to hear starting pitcher Jon Lester talk after his seven-inning performance, these last few days on the road might finally be the start of the Cubs looking and playing like they have expected since the start of spring training.
“I think we’re going now,” said Lester, who retired 21 of 27 he faced – but was sunk by three solo home runs. “I haven’t looked at the weather for Chicago, but hopefully everything’s good for this weekend, a big series this weekend against a team that’s playing well.
“Hopefully, we don’t have to worry about delays or rainouts or anything like that and just show up and play and get into the monotony of the season. I say that in a good way.”
Already hit with five weather-related postponements, the Cubs finally have gone six consecutive games without one. They’ve won four of them – including three of five on a trip through Colorado and Cleveland against teams expected to be in the playoff hunt.
“I like where we’re at, and I don’t think we’ve played great yet,” said Lester, who on Wednesday became the first Cubs starter to record a seventh-inning out this season. “Hopefully, we get Kris [Bryant] back in the next couple of days. That’ll help boost [us].”
The Cubs open a four-game series Thursday against the division-rival Brewers at Wrigley Field – exactly three weeks after winning three of four against the same team in Milwaukee.
This time the Brewers will be without slugger Eric Thames, who injured his thumb Tuesday and went on the disabled list Wednesday.
“We’ll see who they get to take his place,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s been a force against us, there’s no question.”
The Cubs have been without Bryant since the former MVP was hit in the head by a pitch Sunday and hope to see him able to return this weekend against the Brewers. And Ben Zobrist (sore back) is eligible to return from the disabled list Saturday.
But the biggest difference for the Cubs – who won two of three since Bryant was beaned – might just be the ability to play games on consecutive days as the weather begins to cooperate.
Lester pitched well enough to keep the Cubs competitive for their first three-game winning streak of the season but fell short when Indians starter Trevor Bauer outpitched him on just one night after the Cubs scored 10 against the Indians.
“I feel like we’re just kind of at that point where we need to put, like, three games together,” said Lester, who has pitched especially well in three of his last four starts. “Unfortunately, tonight I wasn’t able to do that fully. But I feel like we’re just kind of trying to get over the hump of that third game right now. And I feel like once we do, it’s kind of rolling from there.
“We’ve been playing well,” he said. “We’ve had some kind of ups and downs with some things, both sides of the ball. All we can do is show up tomorrow and play a good team and hopefully we’re on top tomorrow.”