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Cubs return to Wrigley Field with sense of optimism, hope heading into pivotal final two months

11 months agoAndy Martinez

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs saw their season-high 8-game winning streak snapped, dropping the finale at Busch Stadium, 3-0.

The Cubs wrapped up a 6-game road trip with a 5-1 record, sweeping a 2-game set from the White Sox and taking 3 of 4 from the Cardinals.

Here are three observations from the weekend set in St. Louis.

Not for sale

The Cubs winning streak might’ve been snapped, but the 8-game run clearly put the Cubs into the contending category this season, the first time since 2020 that they’ll be playing impactful games over the last two months of the season.

They are over .500 for the first time since May and have a 27-16 record since June 9, the third-best mark in baseball in that time. They were a season-high 10 games under .500 entering that June 9 contest in San Francisco and have rallied from would-be sellers to playoff contenders. The Cubs remain the only team in the division with a positive run differential.

The Cubs’ offensive nucleus of Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner and Ian Happ will have arguably their most important piece, Cody Bellinger, for the stretch run and will have one of their best starters, Marcus Stroman, in the rotation as they look to trim their deficits in the NL Central (4 games) and NL Wild Card (4 games).

“The energy will start picking up [at Wrigley Field],” Kyle Hendricks, the last member of the 2016 World Series champions, said. “It’s always sold out there, but I bet the energy will start picking up the better we play [and] the more we’re in position to take this division.

“That’s right where you wanna be, man. Playing good baseball and being in the thick of it, it’s such a good atmosphere at Wrigley when you’re right in that. I know everybody is gonna love playing in those meaningful games down the stretch now.”

Buckle up for an exciting two months, Cubs fans.

Everyone gets in on the act

It’s hard to point to just one person as the reason for the Cubs’ hot stretch. Yes, Bellinger has been a key cog in the middle of the lineup, but seemingly everyone has stepped up over the last few weeks.

On Saturday, Jameson Taillon delivered a quality start and Yan Gomes and Happ added a pair of 2-run home runs. Oh, and Nick Madrigal, fresh off the IL, made some big plays defensively. Miles Mastrobuoni, who was optioned for Madrigal, was hitting .324 while Madrigal was out.

Reliever Javier Assad, who had been used primarily in long-relief, prevented the Cardinals from rallying in the 8th inning on Saturday, inducing an inning-ending ground out with the bases loaded and a 4-run lead.

“Attacking the same as always,” Assad said of his mentality. “Felt really good. To have the confidence to be thrown in a tight game and get out of it felt really good. Felt really good to help maintain the advantage for our team and I felt really happy.”

Mike Tauchman made an incredible catch Friday night to save a win. Trey Mancini contributed a 2-run single that proved to be the game-winning run. Hayden Wesneski and Drew Smyly combined to stymy the Cardinals’ offense that night.

Christopher Morel delivered a 2-run double in Thursday’s opener where Justin Steele was as stellar as ever.

Adbert Alzolay and the rest of the Cubs’ bullpen shut the door. The list can go on and on.

“We got the guys in this room that can get the job done and that’s all we care about,” Hendricks said. “We have so much belief and trust in this locker room. We’re growing so close. It’s like a family, everybody’s leaning on each other, trust the guy next to you, that kind of thing. You can really feel that vibe in this clubhouse, so we’re right where we need to be.

“Whatever happens, happens. But whenever we get in this clubhouse, man, we’re just gonna keep it rolling.

Trusting the process

Throughout the season, good times and bad, the Cubs had very similar responses — stick to your routine, trust the process and know things would work out in the end. This run helped affirm that.

It was difficult to see that or believe that in May, when the Cubs had a losing record and this situation seemed far-fetched.

“I mean there’s a couple of ways to go about it, right?” Swanson said. “The perspective is like you either just gotta keep going and you gotta continue to trust that things get better because we have a good team, right? We have good players. Things just weren’t necessarily bouncing our way.”

The Cubs really believed that and were willing to fine-tune that when needed.

“But at the same time, there’s also like an element of like urgency and willingness to make adjustments,” Swanson said. “It’s funny cause we were talking about this [on Saturday] — trusting the process is good as long as you’re actually doing the right process, you know what I mean? You can be doing the wrong one and you keep getting wrong results.”

Swanson and the Cubs, though, knew their processes were correct. The pedigree of the players in the clubhouse asserted that. The Cubs made a conscious effort in the offseason to add veterans with winning experience — Swanson, Mancini, Smyly and Bellinger had all won World Series. They were the ones — along with other veterans like Happ, Stroman, Taillon and Gomes who helped the others in the clubhouse make sure they knew they were on the right path.

“I feel like guys in here are really good about being self-reflective and understanding what they need to do better and get better with,” Swanson said. “When you got a group of guys that do that, things start to work out in your favor.”

This road trip — and the last 12 games in which they’re 10-2 — shows that. Now, the Cubs will look to sustain that over the final two months and, they hope, into October.

“We’re gonna have to continue to play good baseball,” manager David Ross said. “We’ve got to get better in some areas, we can run the bases better, we can do some things a little bit better. But I think like the belief in the group and the fight and just seeing that and what you’re seeing in this moment of rolling off a lot of W’s in a row. You’re just seeing a fight and a mentality of a collective group that’s playing together.

“We’re not playing perfect baseball, but there’s no wavering of how they compete. And I think that’s a really powerful thing.”

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