The Cubs are riding a huge wave of momentum into this weekend’s crosstown series on the South Side, watching their rookies grow up while Wrigley Field again turns into a place to be.
While the White Sox haven’t seen all their offseason headlines translate into on-field success – a stand-pat approach to the trade deadline made them look like a franchise stuck in neutral – the Cubs sense they’re on the verge of something special.
“Right now, it feels like we’re in a playoff game every day,” Kyle Schwarber said after blasting two home runs during Thursday’s 9-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “That’s the mindset that we need to have: We’re playing in the playoffs every day. There are no breaks.”
The Cubs (65-48) are the National League’s hottest team and becoming a big national story, winning 13 of their last 14 games and seeing the playoff picture come into sharper focus.
This 7-0 homestand – highlighted by a sweep of the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants – left the Cubs one game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates and just out of the first wild-card spot heading into Thursday night.
“I don’t see us (being) full of ourselves at all,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I just see (us) ready to play. Nobody’s out there feeling like they have anything wrapped up. They come to play every day.
“It’s a nice mix now. The vibe’s good. We got to keep it going.”
A crowd of 40,799 packed into Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon and got loud when Dexter Fowler, Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo hit home runs in the fifth inning. That was more than enough support for Jon Lester, who appears to be peaking at the right time (4-0 with a 2.04 ERA in his last five starts).
At a time when conventional wisdom says the Cubs should be slamming into the rookie wall, they seem to be finding another gear.
Schwarber is putting up a 1.042 OPS in The Show, changing the look and the feel of the entire lineup with eight homers and 25 RBI through 31 games. Jorge Soler is hitting .318 with 11 RBI in his last 18 games, showing the offensive potential that sparked a bidding war when he defected from Cuba. Kris Bryant has a 10-game hitting streak, powering through the mental grind. Addison Russell has become the everyday shortstop and should stabilize the middle infield.
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“Especially with some of these young guys, you could see they were struggling physically and mentally,” Lester said. “A lot of these guys are playing their first big-league season. (Some) of them haven’t been here all year, but you’re adding a whole nother month and you’re adding a whole lot more ABs to these guys’ plates. They’ve done a great job of bouncing back.
“We’ve relied on our pitching staff – both starters and the bullpen – for the majority of this year and now these guys are swinging the bats unbelievably.
“They’re having great at-bats, long at-bats. They’re wearing down the other pitchers and putting themselves in good counts to hit and taking advantage of that.”
The Cubs blasted five home runs against a last-place team, a rookie named Tyler Cravy and three different relievers. But these are all big games now, with the White Sox lining up Jeff Samardzija, Jose Quintana and Chris Sale to face the city’s “It” team.
“It’s good to see how these guys have developed and really kind of come into their own, not letting the stage get too big for them,” Lester said. “They’re just having fun playing baseball. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air for me to be around these younger guys.”