The Chicago Cubs went into the series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants last week looking to make up ground in the National League wild card race, and that’s exactly what they did as they racked up a 5-1 record and built up a three and a half game lead for the league’s final playoff spot.
Rain washed out the first game of Chicago’s series with the Pirates, but the Cubs bounced back with an impressive shutout win on their way to a split with the team they are chasing for second place in the NL Central. Upon returning home to Wrigley Field, the Cubs quickly erased the half-game deficit they faced against the Giants in the wild card standings, winning four consecutive games and giving themselves a sizable advantage in the race.
What’s more, the four consecutive wins brought the Cubs’ record to a stellar 62-48, the fourth-best record in Major League Baseball. The record shows a remarkable improvement from last season, when the Cubs reached the 110-game plateau with a record of 47-63 on their way to another dismal campaign.
That improvement has come as a result of some incredible production from the team’s youngest stars. Rookie Kyle Schwarber has forced his way into the Cubs’ lineup on a daily basis, racking up three home runs and driving in 10 RBI over his last 10 games. He has only been held hitless twice during that stretch, and he has scored at least one run in each of his last seven games.
Schwarber isn’t the only youngster hitting his stride either. Addison Russell has increased his batting average by 14 points since the All-Star break and played a huge role in the Cubs’ success against the Giants, scoring three runs and driving in two more as he took over the starting job at shortstop from Starlin Castro.
Finally, there’s been the emergence of pitcher Jake Arrieta, who is forcing his way into the National League Cy Young Award conversation. Arrieta has been consistent all year, giving up four or fewer earned runs in all 23 of his starts, but he’s been especially lethal as of late. In his last 10 starts, Arrieta is sporting a 1.23 ERA with 69 strikeouts and a 7-1 record over that span.
The news keeps getting better for the Cubs as well when looking forward to their upcoming schedule. The Cubs don’t have another series against a playoff contender until August 25 when they head to San Francisco for a rematch with the Giants, and until that date they don’t have to leave the city of Chicago as they play home series against the Brewers, Tigers, and Braves and a three-game series against the White Sox at US Cellular Field.
While the Cubs look to take advantage of an easy schedule over the next two weeks, the team they are chasing for the top wild card spot will have an incredibly tough road to plow. The Pirates face two tough road series against the division-leading Cardinals and NL East-leading Mets to start out, and then home series against the pesky Diamondbacks and the Giants to wrap up a difficult portion of their schedule.
The Cubs have had some difficulty with bottom feeding teams in recent weeks, with the Philadelphia Phillies sweeping them in a three game set at Wrigley in late July, but all arrows are pointing up for them at the moment. With an easy schedule and some key contributors pitching in on at the plate and on the mound, the Cubs are looking to keep things rolling as they pursue their first playoff berth since 2008 and their first winning record since 2009.