3 takeaways from the Cubs’ sweep in Philadelphia
The Cubs picked up their first series sweep of the season, winning three against the Phillies out of the break. They’ve won four in a row after a nine-game losing streak and return home for a quick two-game set against the Pirates beginning Monday.
Then it’s back on the road, as the Cubs head out for a four-game series in San Francisco to end the month.
Here’s three takeaways from the Cubs series win over Philadelphia:
1. Starting pitching ruled the series
The Cubs have spent much of the season without the 5 starters they had planned to pencil in at the start of Spring Training. Kyle Hendricks, Marcus Stroman, Drew Smyly and Wade Miley have all spent time on the injured list and missed starts, but the Cubs had quality pitching from their starters in Philadelphia, leaning on the rotation to pick up the sweep.
Justin Steele set the tone in Game 1, pitching 5 innings of 1-run ball and allowing just 4 hits and 4 walks on 2 strikeouts. He bounced back from a first-pitch home run to Kyle Schwarber to keep the Cubs in the ballgame. Steele’s start was an indication of just how good the Cubs’ starting pitching was — his outing was the “weakest” of the weekend, and it was still a dandy.
Stroman followed that up with a gem, striking out 5 Phillies in 6 innings of 1-run ball on Saturday. His length allowed the Cubs to save some bullpen arms in an extra-inning game and helped them pick up another win. Smyly retired the first 14 batters he faced Sunday and nearly took a perfect game into the 6th inning, if not for a Bryson Stott double that just went past the diving glove of Christopher Morel in left-center. The Cubs are 13-7 when they get a quality start from their starter and this weekend was proof of what they can do when their pitching keeps them in games.
“Those starters that we got in the offseason, [Stroman], Wade, Drew — I think those guys just coming and giving us a chance night in and night out is what we’ve lacked a little bit of that consistency from that rotation,” David Ross told reporters in Philadelphia after Saturday night’s win. “When you get starts like that you feel like you’re in every ballgame. We’ve been in some, but now I don’t have to go to the bullpen till the 6th or 7th inning.”
2. Offense was clicking
Starting pitching ruled the day, but the Cubs’ offense was no slouch, either. They outscored the Phillies 25-7 over the three games — putting up 15 runs in the opener. The offense scored using a variety of methods — they manufactured runs, capitalized on mistakes and they hit home runs. Nothing was a better example than the 10th inning of Saturday’s game, when they scored on a single, an error and a double, putting up 5 runs in the inning and leaving no doubt on the outcome. The Cubs hit .292 in the series, with a .370 on-base percentage, an OPS of .963, 8 home runs and 23 RBI.
The only real trouble the Cubs offense had was against the Phillies’ ace, Zach Wheeler on Saturday, where the Cubs mustered just 3 hits and 1 run — a Nico Hoerner solo home run. For the Cubs, their success this weekend was a direct correlation from the All-Star break, where they had some time to refresh and came out prepared for the start of the second half.
“Wheeler had us shut down for a bit, but the offense was kind of our calling card this series,” Ross told reporters on Sunday. “I don’t think that’s been the norm. It’s amazing what the rest will do for some guys, some time to clear your head, get back. Really quality at-bats [to] all fields. Even our outs were to all over the field, not to one side. Fly balls to right, center, balls well-hit all over the ballpark. It was nice.”
3. Young players deliver
While much of the outside talk has been around Willson Contreras, Ian Happ and other Cubs who could potentially be on the move ahead of the trade deadline, the younger players on the roster showed signs of optimism for the future.
Hoerner, Morel, Seiya Suzuki and Nelson Velázquez hit .378 combined this series with 5 home runs, 15 RBI and a 1.251 OPS. Velázquez stole the show on Friday, hitting a pair of home runs off the bench, something that was no small task. Hoerner sparked the Cubs’ 5-run 10th inning on Saturday with a pivotal, 1-out stolen base. Velázquez homered again on Sunday and Morel reached base 3 times in the finale. Suzuki had a 4-hit game on Friday.
Couple that with Steele’s start on Friday, some of the bullpen work from players like Scott Effross and Brandon Hughes and the young pitchers for the Cubs had their moments this weekend, too.
Much of the focus for the Cubs in the second half will rely on the development of all of those players and if the three-game set in Philadelphia is any indication, it’s a good sign for the future of the Cubs.