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Cubs see things starting to come together after sweep of Reds

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Cubs see things starting to come together after sweep of Reds

CINCINNATI — The Cubs can keep dancing all the way home.

The music was blasting in the clubhouse again Sunday afternoon after the Cubs' 5-2 win over the Cincinnati Reds to complete a rain-shortened, two-game sweep.

That finished up a 4-2 road trip with a stop in Pittsburgh for four games before Cincinnati.

"I love it," manager Joe Maddon said. "In the division, on the road, two tough venues, two tough teams and to come back with a 4-2 record is not a bad thing."

The 2015 Cubs have had plenty of reasons to dance and celebrate, as the good vibes keep rolling in. Maddon's squad is now 10-7 overall, including a 6-3 record on the road.

"We've done a nice job [on the road]," Maddon said. "I'm telling you, the energy pregame in the dugout is outstanding. The guys are definitely on top of things. They're ready to play. And as a manager, that's all you can ask for."

[MORE: Jake Arrieta refuses to cave in, sets tone for Cubs]

With a roster packed with young, inexperienced talent, it's been a different guy stepping up each game. Friday night, it was Jonathan Herrera in extra innings.

Sunday, it was rookie Addison Russell, who came up with the big hit — a two-out, three-run double in the fourth inning in what ended up as the game-winner.

It was only the third hit of Russell's career, overshadowing a tough stretch that saw him go 0-for-6 with five strikeouts to start off the series against the Reds.

This weekend, it was Herrera and Russell, but rookies Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant have been impressive as well while Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have provided a steadying presence both in the field and at the plate.

Even the veteran catchers — Miguel Montero and David Ross — got in on the action this weekend, combining for four RBI against the Reds.

[RELATED: Maddon: Castro creating 'good baseball karma' for himself]

And that's not even touching on the pitching, as the bullpen combined for eight shutout innings behind starters Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

"It's just kind of a testament to the guys we have here, the young players — they're a little more advanced than most," Arrieta said. "And that kinda helps bridge the gap of the experience. They're going to take their lumps, just like we all will from time to time, but they're ahead of the curve.

"Soler, Bryant, Russell, these guys are polished. Polished to an extent that they can come here and contribute right away. And that's what each and every one of them have been able to do throughout their short time here. We all know it's just going to continue.

"The guys we have around the young players who know how to get the job done, regardless of the jam or whatever happens throughout the game. ... Rizzo's made huge strides, as a leader, as a player. Castro's come a long way.

"If everyone continues to take that step, we can win at a high clip on the road and at home. I think it's all starting to come together for us."

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The season is only three weeks old, but the Cubs are gaining some swagger and starting to gel as a team, holding their celebrations/dance parties in the clubhouse after the game.

"It's good. It's loose," Lester said. "It's fun. It makes you forget about the grind and all that. It makes you have fun and smile and enjoy it. Sometimes people don't understand how hard it is to win a game in the big leagues.

"For us to come in here and celebrate each one of them like it's our last, it's a good feeling when we come in here and win. Even when we lose, guys are upbeat about it, like 'hey, we had our chances, but we didn't come through.'

"It's a good feeling to have when guys play loose, when guys enjoy it, when guys have fun. That gets everybody a chance to kind of relax and just play the game. At the end of the day, if we win, great, if we don't, hey we'll be back tomorrow and do it again."

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.