Cubs drop finale to Dodgers but are pleased with how they competed

A seven-game stretch against the perennial National League power Dodgers provided a measuring stick for an improved and perky Cubs team trying to move into the league’s elite.

After losing three of four at home on the backend of that stretch, the Cubs believe they’re not far away but realize there’s varying degrees of improvement in a few areas.

“We know we can compete with them every day,” staff ace Marcus Stroman said Sunday after allowing his first three home runs of the season, including consecutive homers by Max Muncy and J.D. Martinez, that led to a 7-3 loss at cold Wrigley Field. “We don’t feel we’re way behind them. We performed well out there, and a few of these past games could have went our way and didn’t.

“But we’re right there with them. We think we can compete with anyone in the league. There’s no one we’re looking up to. It’s reassuring to know we’re right where we need to be.”

Cubs manager David Ross, a veteran of 12 postseason series, recognized the intensity against a Dodgers team that lost starters Justin Turner, Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger, and pitchers Walker Buehler and Tyler Anderson from last year’s 111-win team but displayed a knack for clutch pitching and power.

“It felt like playoff baseball a little bit from the standpoint of they saw our bullpen multiple times, multiple pockets, similar guys,” Ross said. “We competed very well against them in a lot of games.”

Although the Cubs have displayed surprising power throughout their lineup, the Dodgers have been able to absorb the loss of the Turners and Bellinger with contributions from Muncy (11 home runs), rookie James Outman (seven) and Mookie Betts, who hit a game-tying two-run shot in the third and played flawless defense in his first major-league start at shortstop.

The Cubs’ surprising power has been supplemented by defensive upgrades Dansby Swanson at shortstop (with Nico Hoerner moving to second) and Bellinger in center. But the Dodgers proved the last two games that power still rules.

Their three homers Sunday, coupled with a pair of two-homer performances by Muncy and Outman in Saturday’s 9-4 win, increased their league-leading total to 43 that offsets their eight stolen bases – second lowest in the NL.

“We have the ability to slug more than other teams,” Dodgers manager David Roberts said before Sunday’s game. “I think other teams have the ability to steal a base more frequently and more successfully.

“We haven’t been good, percentage wise (67 percent). We’re not inclined to run just because other team can run. I still don’t like giving up outs or giving away bases. If there’s ripe opportunities to steal bases, we’ll do it.”

The other riding factor is that three-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw possessed enough craftiness to retire 12 of the final 13 batters.

Conversely, the usually-reliable Stroman walked Freddie Freeman on four pitches to start the sixth, and Muncy and Martinez made him pay dearly and wipe out a 3-2 deficit, and Betts added insurance on a two-run double off struggling Michael Fulmer.

“Those three guys hit homers off me have seen me a lot in my career (in the American League), so we’ve had a lot of battles,” Stroman said. “I walked Freddie on four pitches, and that’s very uncharacteristic of me. So from that point on, I was battling to find my mechanics.”

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