By Nate Johnson
Next time the Cubs need some momentum going into an important series, a trip to Milwaukee might be just what’s called for.
On the heels of a sub-.500 stretch coming out of the playoffs, losing 7 of 13 to lowly competition such as the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies, the Cubs went into Miller Park and took four straight from the Brewers. Riding the strength of a 20-10 run differential over a 5-game winning streak, including the series in Milwaukee, the Cubs entered play against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 10 games over .500 for the season, this year’s high-water mark.
The series in Pittsburgh and this weekend’s upcoming homestand against the San Francisco Giants will see the Cubs face the two clubs they’re trying to surpass to get back into one of the two National League wild card slots. So far this season, Chicago holds a 6-4 advantage against the Pirates (a drastic improvement after dropping 14 of 19 against their divisional opponents in 2014) while they have yet to face the Giants.
One focus for the Cubs over the next two months will be getting solid pitching from their starting rotation. Cub starters have recorded a quality start in 53 games this season, 41 of which the team has ended up winning. Trade deadline acquisition Dan Haren, coming over from the Miami Marlins in exchange for two minor leaguers, should help continue that trend in what he expects to be his swan song.
The team also upgraded their bullpen with the addition of reliever Tommy Hunter, sending over outfielder Junior Lake in exchange for the 29-year-old righty. In his debut against the Brewers on Saturday, Hunter notched his first save as a Cub, adding to a stretch of five straight games in which the bullpen recorded a save.
After having the series opener against the Pirates rained out on Monday, a strong run through the remaining two games and a solid performance at home this weekend could put the Northsiders in position for an exciting two months of contending baseball. The Cubs are 25 games ahead of last year’s pace, continued a marked improvement that shows more and more as this young team comes of age, and they face a stretch of 13 straight games against teams currently under .500 before seeing out the month of August with three-game sets against the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.