In a 162 game season, it’s difficult to identify how a single week of baseball identifies a team. However, if the Chicago Cubs’ last seven games mean anything, it’s that Joe Maddon’s club has turned a corner.
Heading into the most recent week of baseball, the Cubs sat in third place of the competitive NL Central with a 27-22 record overall. They were also a modest 4.5 games behind the first place and surging Milwaukee Brewers.
To the standards of most, five games over .500 is by no means something to worry about. And this isn’t to say that Joe Maddon or Cubs fans were close to worried. But, considering the high expectations and potential for Chicago to make another World Series run, their performance through the first 49 games was nowhere near impressive.
When examining how the Cubs performed in their most recent week of baseball, the first word that comes to mind is finally. It seemed long overdue that Chicago coasted through a week looking like the team Cubs fans expected them to be. That’s exactly what they did.
Last week the Cubs picked up a key series victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Chicago followed up winning two of those three games by completing a four-game sweep over the struggling Mets at Citi Field. The 6-1 week was statistically the best week of the season the Cubs have put forth thus far this season.
Chicago has also won eight of its last 10 overall to reach the 10 over .500 mark (33-23) for the first time in the 2018 season. In doing so, the Cubs have moved into second place and have cut the Brewers’ first-place lead to a slim two games.
There was a lot to admire about how the Cubs went about their business last week. Though the club performed well from just about every angle of the game, the starting pitching undoubtedly carried Chicago through its red-hot week.
Cubs starters threw a total of 41 innings in seven games last week. During that span, Chicago’s rotation allowed only nine earned runs, giving them an ERA of 1.98. Frankly, all five starters were effective. There was only one occurrence in those seven games that a Cubs starter let up more than two earned runs. And that was a game the Cubs and Jon Lester went on to win.
All five starters may have been good, but it’s saying something that temporary starter Mike Montgomery was undoubtedly the best. It’s been known for quite some time that “Monty” has been itching to upgrade from the bullpen to a starting gig. With Yu Darvish hitting the DL yet again, Montgomery got his chance at another audition. He didn’t disappoint. In two starts last week, the big lefty allowed only one run over 11 and ⅔ innings. Montgomery was practically unhittable as there were only two hits mustered off of him in each of his last two outings.
If he already isn’t, the Cubs skipper will be forced to consider a six-man rotation when Darvish returns from the DL. This is because it’s extremely difficult to imagine first-year Cub Tyler Chatwood transitioning to a bullpen role.
Staying on the topic of pitching, the bullpen wasn’t too shabby last week either. The Cubs pen hurled 26 innings last week and only allowed five runs (1.73 ERA). 26-year old Luke Farrell and closer Brandon Morrow headline the continued success out of the pen.
It’s been a bit of an up and down ride for Farrell so far this season, who sports a 3.86 ERA. But, last week proves the young pitcher can be an asset to the Cubs. Farrell threw six scoreless innings last week. This was highlighted by an eye-popping 76-pitch five-inning outing to keep the Cubs in the game during their 14 inning marathon on Saturday night.
Morrow has thrived in his new role as closer all season for the Cubs. Last week helped define that notion. The veteran pitched in four of the Cubs’ seven games last week. He threw three innings total while picking up three saves and not allowing a run.
It wasn’t only pitching that made last week a great one for the Cubs though. On the other side of the diamond, Chicago scored 37 runs as a team for an average of 6.2 per game.
While the Cubs lead the NL in runs scored, timely hitting has been an issue for them all season. Though Chicago definitely still needs work in that area, Ben Zobrist has recently provided hope that the Cubs are capable of coming through in the clutch. The 37-year old is coming off of a big week in which he went 10-25 and knocked in eight runs.
A good chunk of those hits from the former World Series MVP came when Chicago needed them most. One of the two home runs Zobrist hit last week came on Tuesday against the Pirates to get the Cubs back in the game. The long ball was a two-run shot to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-2 in the 5th. Chicago went on to win the game 8-6.
Zobrist also put the Cubs on top 2-0 in game one of the Mets series with a line drive home run to right center in the top of the first inning. This was a lead Chicago never surrendered. In addition, Zobrist tied the score at two in the seventh inning on Friday with a clutch double to the right-center field gap.
For the most part, all Cubs hitters that saw consistent playing time last week did damage on offense. But one that sticks out is Jason Heyward, considering how much he has struggled since becoming a Cub in 2016.
Heyward went 12-28 from the plate last week in what was most likely his best seven-game stretch as a Cub. This included his second four-hit game as a Cub on Saturday and two three-hit games. It’s definitely worth noting that Heyward has looked much more confident at the plate than Cubs fans are used to seeing. If there was any time for the defensive-minded outfielder to finally turn it around and start hitting consistently, it would be now.
Chicago returns home on Tuesday after a successful road trip for a three-game set against the Philadelphia Phillies, a club that has hung around in the NL East much longer than anticipated. To wrap up their next week of play, the Cubs will hit the road for three more against the Pirates.
After yet another controversial series and a benches-clearing situation with the Pirates, the MLB will without a doubt have eyes on the upcoming series with Pittsburgh. The Anthony Rizzo slide situation last week has definitely sent the message that the tension between the two clubs will not ease up anytime soon.
Elsewhere in the NL Central, the Cardinals completed a solid 4-2 week with a 5-0 victory over the reeling Pirates. Michael Wacha took a no-hitter into the 9th inning as Pittsburgh’s bats went silent again on Sunday. This has been a recurring theme for Clint Hurdle’s squad lately. The Pirates scored two or fewer runs four times last week and have lost seven of their last nine games overall.
With the Pirates desperately hovering one game over .500, the NL Central has recently shifted to a three-team race between the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers. Pittsburgh now sits 6.5 games back of the division lead while the previous three teams mentioned are separated by only 3.5 games. The pressure is on Milwaukee right now to maintain its first-place lead. The Brewers just lost their first series since early June to a less than impressive White Sox squad.
- Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.