By Todd Johnson
The All-Star Break seems like an eternity ago. The Cubs were 43-45 and 5.5 games behind Milwaukee and 7.5 behind Colorado. What a difference the last two weeks have been. Heading into today’s game in Milwaukee, the Cubs are 1.5 games ahead of Milwaukee and don’t have to worry about the Wildcard. Here are six reasons for the “surge” into first place.
1. The 11-2 record since the break is built on the dead bones of teams under .500. Every single team they have played since June 14 had a losing record. Today’s series is the Cubs’ first and only series this month against a team with a winning record. In August, things look rosy, too, as they only play nine games against teams with a winning record. In September, it is just 7 games.
2. The starting pitching has been excellent. In addition to an ERA under 2.00, they are taking the heat off the bullpen by pitching into the seventh and eighth innings.
3. Health – Heyward and Zobrist are back and the lineup is doing OK despite Joe’s machinations on how he constructs it on a daily basis. The Cubs got lucky with Bryant’s finger as it was only a sprain, but I am sure everyone breathed a sigh of relief at the x-rays.
4. The Trade – As if there were any other trade, it had to energize the team for the long run to come. I like the trade for beyond 2017, but I was sad to see Eloy go, but it was the best thing for the team. If you can a #2 starter locked up for a few years at rock bottom prices, I think you have to take that chance. As a result, the burden is lessened and it allows Montgomery to slide into the pen and be a weapon late in games.
5. Milwaukee hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard and their bullpen has imploded a few times. The league took its sweet time in figuring out how to defeat this team and Eric Thames. But I think Shaw is still a factor and so will be a healthy Ryan Braun. The Cubs caught the Brewers at the most opportune time. Let me make this perfectly clear – The Brewers are not going anywhere. They have a loaded farm system and will be a thorn in the Cubs’ side for years to come. The only question is, can the Brew Crew compete with the financial flexibility and power of the Cubs’ economic engine?
6. Who doesn’t like dingers? I love home runs and the Cubs have been clouting lots of them including several by a young boy from Ohio who hit 2 last night, along with triple, and has 5 of them in July. In addition, he’s hitting .280 for the month with a .368 OBP and an OPS of 1.048.
Things are looking very good now, very good.
Over the next 10 days, the Cubs have their longest stretch the rest of the year against teams with winning records (Milwaukee, Arizona, and Washington) and that is nine games. Thankfully, the Cubs will be at home for six of them with one day off.
And then there’s the matter that the front office still has almost four full days before the non-waiver trade deadline Monday afternoon to add a couple of players to strengthen the team.
Things are looking up, way up.