The Cubs have a lot to feel good about right now

The Cubs have a lot to feel good about right now

Maybe a trip to South Beach was just what the Cubs needed.

They entered the series against Starlin Castro and the Marlins with a 5-9 record, but after claiming the first two games in Miami, the Cubs are now staring down their first chance at a sweep in 2019. 

Sure, it's the rebuilding Marlins, who are now only 4-14 on the season. But a win's a win and the Cubs are a couple steps closer to getting back to .500 after their slow start.

Here are 8 things the Cubs have to feel good about right now:

1. Positive regression?

Speaking of that slow start, the Cubs are now 6-3 since that 6-game losing streak that stretched from Texas to Atlanta to Milwaukee. They have a +12 run differential, which is behind only the Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies in the National League. 

With that run differential, their Pythagorean record actually says they should be a 9-7 team instead of 7-9.

2. Jose Quintana and the starting rotation

Quintana has been absolutely lights out his last two starts following his disaster in Milwaukee (8 ER, 3 HR allowed in 3 IP). Even despite that poor outing, Quintana's season ERA is down to 3.43, second only to Jon Lester (2.57). 

Outside that clunker in Milwaukee, Quintana has not allowed an earned run in 18 innings, permitting just 15 hits and 4 walks while striking out 26. He currently leads the Cubs pitching staff in innings pitched, strikeouts, quality starts and wins. 

Quintana is now 22-15 in a Cubs uniform with a 3.89 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 9.2 K/9 in 279.2 innings.  

The Cubs rotation as a whole have been in a groove, with Yu Darvish turning in his best start of the season Monday night and Cole Hamels continuing his dominance at Wrigley Field. Kyle Hendricks continues to struggle, but he said he feels like he's on the cusp of figuring it out and Lester is on the comeback trail from his hamstring injury.

3. Javy Baez is raking

Baez woke up Saturday morning hitting just .232 on the young season, but he's turned in back-to-back-to-back 3-hit games and is now 9-for-14 in that stretch with 6 extra-base hits. That's pushed his season batting line to .314/.342/.600 and his homer Tuesday night to right-center may have been one of his best swings ever, as he told ESPN's Jesse Rogers:

Hard to argue that — 439 feet to the opposite field on a good pitch down in the zone would certainly rank among the best swings for a lot of players:

So how will Baez follow up his 2018 run at the NL MVP? 

His offensive numbers may be inflated a bit by his current hot stretch, but add in his defense at shortstop and baserunning prowess and it sure doesn't seem like "El Mago" is ticketed for that regression many were predicting.

4. Remember this week if Albert Almora Jr. wins a Gold Glove

Almora is still scuffling at the plate (though he did draw a pair of walks Tuesday night), but he's proving his value with his glove in center field. 

After he did this Monday night...

...Almora went out on his 25th birthday and added another highlight to his reel with a clutch catch to help Quintana avoid a jam:

5. Was that a sign of life from Kris Bryant?

Bryant went 0-for-5 Tuesday night to run his season line to .217/.329/.350. But things weren't all bad — he only struck out once and one of the balls he hit for an out was a rocket:

That's encouraging in a lot of regards and may have been a homer (or at least off the wall) in many other ballparks. Players and coaches regularly talk about how sometimes, it's just one good swing to break a player out of his slump. Maybe this was his one swing.

6. The Cubs offense is still humming along despite Bryzzo's slow start

Bryant is catching a lot of the flak from the fanbase, but Rizzo's 0-for-4 showing Tuesday night dropped his season line to .169/.329/.339.

Still, the Cubs are averaging more than 6 runs a game this season and rank among the NL leaders in just about every offensive category. That's all in spite of this slow start from Bryant and Rizzo.

Just imagine what this team is going to be able to do offensively once the studs return to their normal levels. Bryant's current OPS is 217 points below his career mark and Rizzo is at 183 points beneath his career total.

These guys are going to hit and there are going to be times where "Bryzzo" carries this Cubs offense. 

Remember, Rizzo sported a .149/.259/.189 slash line on May 1 last year and hit .303/.393/.512 the rest of the way. 

7. Daniel Descalso and Ben Zobrist are professional hitters

Zobrist had the night off from starting and only had one plate appearance, but he made it count, lifting a sacrifice fly to right field to plate David Bote in the ninth inning with a valuable insurance run. 

Descalso got the Cubs scoring started with a clutch 2-out single in the third inning to score Bote and finished the night reaching in 4 of his 5 plate appearances (2 hits and 2 walks). He's now slashing .341/.413/.488 in his first three weeks in a Cubs uniform.

Both veterans have been heralded as having "professional at-bats" and they've been proving it all season — whether it's setting the tone from the leadoff spot, hitting behind the heart of the order or coming off the bench.

8. Don't look now, but the bullpen has been...OK

Cubs relievers have not surrendered a run in 5.1 innings in Miami, striking out 5 and walking just 2. 

This comes after a tough outing at Wrigley last weekend (7 walks in 4 innings), but remember — the bullpen was on an 18.2 inning scoreless streak that lasted a week prior to Saturday's blow-up.

Slowly but surely, the numbers are normalizing for this Cubs bullpen.

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Carlos Zambrano gets four clean outs in Chicago Dogs debut

Carlos Zambrano gets four clean outs in Chicago Dogs debut

Carlos Zambrano hasn't pitched in the majors since 2012 (and the minors since 2013), but he is back pitching in Chicagoland.

The former Cubs ace made his debut with the Chicago Dogs of the American Association on Saturday. Zambrano didn't register any strikeouts, but retired all four batters he faced.

The 37-year-old got three groundouts and a flyout in 13 pitches.

The Dogs play at Impact Field in Rosemont and the day before Zambrano's debut they set a world record for the most wieners in one location. So this is a bit different than the major leagues.

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

Joe Maddon goes after Sean Doolittle's delivery: ‘That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do’

The Cubs finished Saturday's loss at the Nationals under protest after Joe Maddon saw what he believed to be an inconsistency in how illegal pitches are being called.

Nationals reliever Sean Doolittle came in to close the game out in the ninth with the Nats up 5-2. After one pitch, Maddon went to the umpires to complain. This dragged on throughout the inning.

Maddon didn't like that Doolittle's delivery involved him pausing and potentially even touching the ground in the middle of his wind up before coming home with the pitch. To Maddon, it was clearly an illegal pitch and he was fired up because that's something Carl Edwards Jr. got called for earlier in the season. By comparison, Edwards' version may be more deliberate, but Maddon thinks it is the same thing.

"That's exactly what I was told Carl can't do," Maddon said postgame in a video posted by ESPN's Jesse Rogers. "There's no judgment. If he taps the ground, it's an illegal pitch, period. There's nothing to judge. You can judge whether he did or not. It's obvious that he did, or if you can't tell that then there's something absolutely wrong."

Maddon and the Cubs protested the game as a result. If they win the protest, the game would be restarted with one out in the ninth, when Maddon notified the umpires of the protest.

Doolittle was less than amused by Maddon's protest.

"I have no qualms against Doolittle," Maddon said. "He's great, but they took it away from our guy so for me to sit in the dugout and permit that to happen while they stripped us of that ability earlier this year with Carl, how could I do that? You can't do that. I got to say something."

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