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Strong offensive homestand shows Cubs how they can get back in NL Central race

1 year agoAndy Martinez

What a difference a week can make.

This time seven days ago, the Cubs were coming home from a 4-6 West Coast trip, 9 games under .500 and 6.5 games back from first place in the NL Central with a pivotal series against the first-place Pirates awaiting them.

At the end of the day Sunday, the Cubs are 5 games under .500 and 4 games back in the Central with an opportunity to make up even more ground. They went 5-1 against two playoff-contending teams in the Pirates and Orioles, only losing on Sunday, 6-3, to Baltimore.

They’re headed to Pittsburgh for a three-game set at PNC Park against a Pirates team that hasn’t won a game since before they came to Wrigley Field last week. The Cubs then head to London to take on a Cardinals team 14 games under .500 and arguably the league’s biggest disappointment thus far.

If the Cubs have a successful road trip, it will be likely be because of the offense, which carried them to success on this homestand.

In the two series at Wrigley Field, the Cubs slashed .291/.378/.462 with 18 extra-base hits and 44 runs — or 7.33 runs per game.

“The offense showed up,” manager David Ross said. “Just hopefully we can carry this momentum. Playing really good baseball offensively.”

A new-look lineup — and some health — are allowing the Cubs to do so.

Mike Tauchman has been a breakout player for the Cubs since the team added him in May — he’s hitting at a .280/.404/.320/111 weighted runs created plus clip. His knack for getting on base prompted Ross to try him at the top of the lineup on June 10 in San Francisco.

“I think just especially against some righties where they have real splits, how this all started,” Ross said. “And then it’s just worked. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it kind of thing.”

Cody Bellinger returning didn’t hurt, either.

The former MVP returned this homestand after missing time due to a left knee contusion. He’s only gotten on base twice — a hustle, RBI double and a walk against Pittsburgh on Thursday — but his presence alone in the lineup makes a difference.

“He can cause a lot of havoc and you see [Thursday] they plan around [him by] bringing a lefty [and] he gets a big hit,” Ross said on Friday. “Like that stuff … the other opposing manager is bringing in a guy to negate his strength and he comes through.

“That’s a huge lift for the group and it just sends a lot of positivity through our locker room.”

His return, with Tauchman’s emergence, lengthens the Cubs’ lineup. Nico Hoerner moves to second and his bat-to-ball skills play with Tauchman’s on-base ability. Seiya Suzuki’s power threat behind them allows for some RBI opportunities. Ian Happ, after them, can get on base at a high clip, too, and can prolong an inning. Or if the top of the order goes 1-2-3, Happ’s skillset functions as a de-facto leadoff hitter.

That’s four quality at-bats before you even reach Dansby Swanson or Bellinger. And behind those two is the red-hot Christopher Morel, who has 13 home runs, the second-most on the team. The catcher has typically been in the 8th spot and Ross has used Nick Madrigal and Miles Mastrobuoni as his 9th hitter almost as another leadoff man at the bottom of the order.

On paper, it’s a solid recipe for success — one that the Cubs hope and believe they can carry on their trek east. They won’t average 7 runs a game moving forward, but the ability for a deeper lineup to score is a recipe they need if they want to continue to have success.

The starting pitching has been solid all year and the Cubs’ bullpen is beginning to come into its own after this homestand (1.31 ERA/1.11 WHIP in 20.2 IP). If those trends continue and the offense can produce, it’s exactly how the Cubs claw their way back into the NL Central race.

This homestand showed that.

“Continue our brand of baseball,” Ross said. “A good brand of baseball for us is really good. … What we did this homestand was nice to do and play our brand of baseball. It’s pitching, timely hitting, running the bases, defense. Those types of things we can bring every single day.

“You see when the offense shows up, good things happen.”

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