Cubs infielder Javier Baez

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Spiegel: June Looking Like A Turning Point For Cubs

The Cubs have been at their aggressive best recently.

Matt Spiegel
June 05, 2018 - 11:35 am
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By Matt Spiegel--

(670 The Score) I tend to write most about baseball for public consumption when I see good things. Hey, we are who we are, and I'm prone to praise.

The Cubs' sweep of the Mets at Citi Field last weekend was worthy of plenty.

The Mets are a disaster right now. They have so many hitters are on the disabled list that manager Mickey Callaway had to start five lefty batters against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester. Power sources Yoenis Cespedes and Todd Frazier have been mediocre, then hurt. So many pitchers are on the DL that Ron Darling could come down from the booth and make the team.

Here’s how bleak it is in the Mets bullpen: Right-hander Paul Sewald was awful in May, to the tune of a 5.29 ERA. As June began on Friday, there was Sewald called upon in the high-leverage seventh inning to protect a 2-0 lead with lefty Cubs bats galore coming up.  Callaway later explained that he had only three relievers available. Well, Sewald did what he does. He let both inherited runners score, gave up one of his own to give the Cubs a lead and then CAME BACK OUT for a disastrous eighth inning capped by Kyle Schwarber’s three-run homer. Ballgame.

The Cubs' six-run 14th inning in Saturday's win was such that the Mets' bullpen blowup was declared by the New York Post a step in the right direction.

Acknowledging all of that, how the Cubs finished off that 6-1 road trip was undeniably encouraging in the big picture -- and fun as hell to watch.  

Jose Quintana, Mike Montgomery and Lester threw a combined 19 innings, giving up one earned run on on seven hits while recording 17 strikeouts. Tyler Chatwood was survivable Friday but has walked four or more in all but three of his 11 starts. Montgomery is earning a chance to stay in the rotation when Yu Darvish returns from the disabled list.

Schwarber is killing pitchers from both sides, getting the playing time he deserves and has been above-average defensively left field. Ben Zobrist looks 33, not 37, and has had great at-bats all season long. 

The base-running was exquisite Sunday. Javier Baez's steal of home on a pickoff attempt that Willson Contreras brilliantly drew from Steven Matz got the headlines, but look at the whole inning. Contreras took second as Baez broke for home, then scored on a sacrifice fly.  Schwarber later stole second easily to put himself in scoring position, showing the contagious confidence that we’ve come to recognize in this group.

This is how the young, aggressive Cubs are at their best. They're instinctively wreaking havoc on the base paths, led by the electric Baez. They run the bases like I played Intellivision. Force your opponents to make a mistake, and they probably will.

Albert Almora continues his elite center field play and consistently brings much-needed contact to what can be a heavy swing-and-miss lineup.

Hell, even Jason Heyward had four hits Saturday and had 12 in a five-game stretch on top of his usual quality defense. I know, we all need to see that offense for a month or two before we believe.

The story of the Cubs' year is still the bullpen. Even with Carl Edwards Jr. on the DL and Brian Duensing slumping a bit for what seems like his first time as a Cub, the pen just rolls on. Randy Rosario, hello. The Cubs bullpen is second in ERA, first in batting average against and first in OPS against in the big leagues.

The league-wide reliance on so many pitchers per game can be frustrating, being beholden to pitch counts can be maddening and manager Joe Maddon’s starting pitcher hooks can be bizarre. But when everybody in the bullpen is throwing like this, most moves work out.

A breather back home with rare perfect Chicago spring weather Monday was undoubtedly enjoyed by the streaking Cubs (33-23), who have won seven of eight and find themselves just two games back of the NL Central-leading Brewers with a six-game homestand awaiting before a trip to Milwaukee.

In 2016, a dominant 17-5 mark in April set the Cubs up to go wire to wire. Last year, it was a 16-8 record in July that pushed the Cubs past the Brewers and into first place in the division. 

This year, maybe it’s a rolling, confident June that we’ll remember as the month when the Cubs asserted themselves toward a third straight division title.

So far, so good.  

Follow Matt Spiegel on Twitter @MattSpiegel670. For more from and about Matt, visit www.mattspiegel.com.