After rolling over Cardinals, Cubs believe they have what it takes to make a push
If the Cubs were ever going to make a push this season, it had to start with the first homestand of the second half.
Coming out of the All-Star Break, the Cubs had 10 games at Wrigley Field against the Red Sox, Nationals and Cardinals. A strong showing in those games could turn the tide and help build momentum toward a playoff race instead of a third straight sell-off.
That prospect looked bleak initially, as the Cubs dropped 3 of their first 4 games against the Red Sox and Nationals.
But a 17-run output on Tuesday night sparked a strong end to the week.
With Sunday’s 7-2 win over the Cardinals, the Cubs finished 6-4 on the 10-game homestand.
“That was a huge series for us, especially to drop the first one and then come back and win 3,” Trey Mancini said. “Especially in a very important time of year right now with the deadline coming up. As a player, obviously you don’t want to see any of your teammates get traded and hope to keep everybody together. Hopefully we can keep playing well.”
The Cubs are now 48-51 on the season, 6.5 games back in the division and 5.5 games out of the final NL Wild-Card spot. They have a +41 run differential, which ranks 4th in the National League and is the best mark in the division by a wide margin.
With the Aug. 1 trade deadline just over a week away, the Cubs believe they have what it takes to contend this season.
“I think you’re just starting to see the best version of us, to some extent,” David Ross said before Sunday’s game. “The offense has picked it up as of late, picking up the pitching, which I thought carried us early in the season. The bullpen’s figured some things out at times. We’re playing alright.”
Ross pointed to Saturday’s win, in particular, as an encouraging moment for the group. Four separate times, the Cardinals took the lead and four times, the Cubs battled back until they took the lead for good.
Riding on the back of Cody Bellinger — who had 9 RBI in the Cardinals series and is the hottest hitter on the planet this month — the offense has shown it can put together late rallies or score early and then add insurance runs later in the game.
The pitching staff is also starting to find some consistency with Jameson Taillon turning a corner in the rotation.
Taillon notched his third straight solid start Sunday afternoon, allowing only 1 run in 5.2 innings. That dropped his season ERA to 5.75, the lowest its been since his start on May 4.
“Obviously you don’t want to overcook these games but I do feel like we’re playing well right now and I do feel like we’re clicking in a lot of different areas,” Taillon said. “We had team at-bats all the way through today. A couple sac flies, a couple big hits, great defense, relief pitching picking me up.
“I do feel like we’re playing really well but also I don’t really pay attention [to trade deadline chatter]. I can genuinely say that. I’ve been a part of enough trade deadlines where people are moving, coming in, coming out to where it’s just like you can’t concern yourself too much with it.”
It isn’t just about one strong homestand against a pair of teams flirting with last place. The Cubs now have a 22-15 record since June 9 (the series in San Francisco), which is a .595 winning percentage. Over a full season, that would be a 96-win pace.
That’s six weeks of play where the Cubs have played like a serious contender.
“The resiliency of the group and how it’s all coming together, you look at the second half of our schedule, just a lot of positives in there,” Ross said. “I think we’re all in this together. Jed’s watching.
“It’s a results-based industry we’re in. You gotta win games. The more you can do that, the more I’m sure the front office has confidence.”
Of course, as Ross pointed out after Sunday’s win, there is still a lot of baseball to go. The Cubs still have 63 games left to play and there is still a week’s worth of game action before the trade deadline.
The Cubs are off on Monday before a 2-game series on the South Side against the White Sox and then a crucial 4-game set in St. Louis. If they can keep up their winning ways, it will make the decision easier for the Cubs front office.
Bellinger is certainly confident the Cubs could make a run.
“I’ve been confident in it,” he said. “I see the talent. Been around some good teams, been on some good teams. Got the right guys in this clubhouse. I believe it. We all know that. I believe.”