Chicago Cubs starting pitchers brought the magic against the Mets

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Before their series opener against the New York Mets on Tuesday, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon brought in a magician to lighten up the mood in the clubhouse. Apparently, some of that magic rubbed off on the Cubs starting pitchers. 

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In three games against the New York Mets, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, and Jon Lester gave up a total of one run between them.

Although this success came against a Mets team that has struggled offensively all season (29th in MLB in team batting average), the Cubs starting pitching staff needed these performances to erase the memory of an awful five-game losing streak.

The Cubs lost the last two games of their series against the LA Dodgers to earn a split before getting swept by the St. Louis Cardinals in three games. Maddon, who is known for his unusual antics, hired a magician to perform for the team with the belief that the performance would calm down his players and re-instill the magic that has defined this team this season.

"We’re trying to lighten things up a little bit. We’re always trying to create some magic around here, so why not bring a magician in? – Maddon via Associated Press"

The trick worked. The Chicago Cubs’ starters pitched 21 innings of one-run baseball in their three-game series against the New York Mets. The Cubs did just enough offensively to win these games, therefore much of the credit in this series has to go to the starting pitchers for their magical performances.

Jake Arrieta continues to solidify himself as the ace on this Chicago Cubs pitching staff. In Thursday’s finale, he gave up one run in eight innings while striking out seven hitters. He said after the game that this Cubs team can play with anyone—-with or without a magic show.

"We can pitch with anybody. We can swing the bats. And our defense can play lights-out. We just have to bring that night in, night out. The only thing we needed to do is use this series for positive reinforcement, letting everybody in here know that we can beat anybody. – Arrieta told CSN Chicago"

Starting pitcher Jon Lester is one of the Cubs players that could benefit most if some of that magic in the magician’s wand rubbed off on him. He posted an ERA of 5.74 in the month of June and came into Wednesday’s start searching for his first win since May 16.

Although he received a no-decision on Wednesday, he worked some magic out there on the mound.

On Wednesday evening, Jon Lester pitched seven strong innings, giving up five hits and no earned runs while recording seven strikeouts. It was his best start statistically since May 1 when he pitched seven scoreless innings of three-hit baseball against the Milwaukee Brewers.

It has been an up-and-down season for a player that came to Chicago to be the ace that this team desperately needed.

Although he didn’t credit the magician for giving him the magic needed for a strong outing, Lester said that he enjoys playing for Joe Maddon because of the atmosphere that he has established in the clubhouse.

"But being around him [Maddon], he’s great. It’s great – especially for these guys that are young that haven’t done this – to keep it light, to keep it entertaining. – via Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago"

Kyle Hendricks is another Cubs starter that pitched one of his best games of the season after the magic show. He allowed three hits in six innings and no runs to earn his third win of the season. The Dartmouth graduate is known for his meticulous preparation before starts.

While this routine didn’t change before his Tuesday night start against the Mets, Hendricks believes that the magic show loosened him up and calmed his nerves before the game.

"It loosened us all up. That’s what Joe does. He knows what triggers to pull at the right time. That was a fun thing for us. — via Jesse Rogers of ESPN"

Despite the starters’ successes against the Mets this week, the Cubs still have problems with their rotation. Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel are solid top-end rotational arms, but beyond that there are many question marks. Lester must develop some consistency before he will be able to justify the $155 million that the Cubs have invested in him over six seasons.

The Cubs continue to play musical chairs with their four and five starters. Hendricks pitched brilliantly against the Mets in the series opener but lacks the plus arm and dominating stuff to be considered anything more than a back-end rotational filler.

If he isn’t meticulously hitting his locations, he is going to struggle. Tsuyoshi Wada’s shoulder injury widens an already gaping hole in the back-end of the Cubs rotation.

With the pitching success in the Cubs series against the Mets, perhaps Maddon will get a permanent magician to travel with this team for the rest of the season. This team is fun and young and could continue to seriously benefit from the psychological effects of these gimmicks.

Seriously though, this teams’ magic stems from the collective belief of success long-term. The Cubs have developed a closely-knit atmosphere in their clubhouse. Even though starting pitching is a need, they shouldn’t sell out at the trade deadline to get a rotation arm if this means sacrificing any of their young talents.

This organization has been too patient for too long to get antsy now. If the Cubs trade away their young players who will be entertained by Maddon’s magicians?

Next: Cubs Series Preview:Chicago Looks to Extend Streak against Marlins

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