By Nate Johnson
Another week for the Cubs, another roller coaster ride reflective of this season already filled with ups and downs, excitement and heavily guarded optimism. Splitting the week’s six games against Detroit and Cincinnati kept the Cubs treading water to a certain extent but a pair of walk-off wins to wrap up the stretch soothed the sting of last Tuesday’s 6-0 loss, only the fourth time they’ve been shut out so far this season.
The back-to-back walk-offs, giving Chicago eight such wins so far this season, were both sealed by clutch base hits by shortstop Starlin Castro. The eight wins gives the Cubs the most in the majors by a far sight, as well as twelve wins in their final at-bat. Numbers like these support manager Joe Maddon’s confident talk about making a serious postseason run despite the youth of the team.
Castro is one of three Cub infielders with a shot at a starting berth in next month’s MLB All-Star Game, to be held at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park. As of MLB’s latest tallies, Castro sits in fourth place at shortstop (St. Louis’s Jhonny Peralta currently leads), first baseman Anthony Rizzo is in fourth as well (Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt) and standout rookie Kris Bryant only follows Cardinal Matt Carpenter in third base voting, despite not being on the major-league roster for the first two weeks of the season.
Besides the continued offensive success of Bryant (currently riding an 11-game hitting streak, his second 10+ stretch of the season) and Rizzo and Castro’s late-inning heroics, veteran outfielder Chris Coghlan has joined the attack, hitting .370 and slugging .543 since the start of June.
On the other side of the ball, the pitching has started to solidify, as the bullpen has been nearly untouchable over the past three weeks. The bullpen as a whole has posted a 1.54 ERA over the last 64 innings and has held batters to a .183 batting average against through that span. Jason Motte, who has been a big part of the pen’s resurgence, has turned in 12 straight scoreless outings, capped by pitching out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the ninth on Sunday to put the team in position for the second act of Castro’s winning weekend.
Someone who won’t be in the All-Star Game is catcher Kyle Schwarber. After tearing up AA pitching in the first two months of the season, Schwarber was given the call to bring his bat to Cleveland and Detroit to serve as the team’s designated hitter and get a taste of the bigs during the five-game interleague trip.