Cubs slide back into wild card spot

By Nate Johnson
Columnist

Even the most optimistic of Cubs fans would have been hard-pressed to expect coming out of playing the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants with a 5-1 record (one rainout in the series opener against Pittsburgh), but the club did exactly that, giving themselves a three-and-a-half game lead in the National League wild card race over the Giants and reaching a season-high mark at 14 games over .500.

The dominant stretch has the Cubs currently sitting at an 83.3 percent chance of reaching the postseason, an outcome most fans would have scoffed at back in April. A good deal of the credit for the recent surge has to go to the starting rotation, which is 8-0 with a 2.23 ERA in their last 11 games. The continued coming-of-age of Jake Arrieta has been a big part of that, as the righty continued to add to his stellar campaign with 7.2 shutout innings in the series capper against San Francisco.

Coming out of the sweep of the Giants, Chicago is set up for a pair of three-game sets against sub .500 teams, welcoming the Milwaukee Brewers to Wrigley Field and heading across town to face the White Sox at U.S. Cellular. The series opener against the Brewers will see newcomer Dan Haren make his home debut after a disappointing start to his Cubs career, giving up four runs in five innings in a 7-5 loss to the Pirates.

Besides the strong run from their starting pitching, the Cubs are seeing more support from the other side of the ball. While Kyle Schwarber continues to pound opposing pitching at a blistering rate, fellow rookie Addison Russell has come out of a mid-season swoon to hit nearly .300 since the end of July and Jorge Soler has added offense, running at a .345 clip over the last two-and-a-half weeks.

While it’s too early to start printing playoff tickets, the odds of playing significant baseball in October improve by the day. The Cubs are 28 games ahead of last season, as that year’s model did not win their 62nd game until September 1. If not for some torrid play by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Pirates, the postseason chances would be even better. Despite being third in the N.L. Central and sitting in the second wild card spot, the Cubs own the fourth best record in the Major Leagues.

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