A week ago today, the Chicago Cubs sat behind San Francisco and Pittsburgh, looking as if though their sluggish hitting was getting the best of them. Having split with the Pirates and swept the Giants out of Chicago, the rejuvenated Cubs lineup can continue their upward climb behind Dan Haren, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel, with the White Sox due up this weekend.
Winners of 9 of 10, the Chicago Cubs have done an impressive 180-degree about-face under the skilled (yet quirky) tutelage of Joe Maddon. With Wrigley Field fans flocking to see Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo hit another long ball, or Addison Russell shine at shortstop, there's plenty to be proud of this year -- and believe it or not, the Cubs weren't expected to be this close to playoff contention. But they are, and now the club must continue to beat sub-.500 teams, which has been an Achilles heel all year.
Forget Chicago's lights-out 2.23 ERA over the last 11 contests. Ignore Jake Arrieta improving his already ridiculously low ERA to 2.38. The Chicago Cubs have proven they're competitive with Detroit, Pittsburgh, Dodgers, Mets, and even the Yankees, but there's just something about being blown away by Philadelphia and escaping Colorado that resonates with diehard fans of Cubs baseball.
Taylor Jungmann will try and slow Chicago's offensive surge Tuesday, bringing his 4-2 record and 1.90 ERA over the last six starts against a Chicago lineup that was shifted around to allow Russell to play his natural position. Dan Haren, who took the last Cubs loss before icing San Fran, will get the ball tonight against a Brewers team who, thankfully, hasn't exactly run up the scoreboard against him.
Wednesday will feature Jason Hammel (6-5) against ex-Cub Matt Garza, who the Cubs knocked around last week. Hammel has pitched exceptionally well against the Brewers, meaning Chicago should be good for a victory here.
In the finale, Jon Lester (7-8) will bring his reinvented arm to a day game against Tyler Cravy (0-3), a 26-year old promising righty that hasn't fared well against Central Division foes during his first four games.
Should the Chicago Cubs hope to escape with a series win, they'll need to keep their current lineup because it's working. Yes, Starlin Castro is being benched, but cited he's all about winning at all costs. But you know his morale has taken a hit over the Cubs winning in his absence, and it would even be worse if Chicago advanced past the wildcard round without Castro.
Check your local listings for first pitch times, or if you miss the series, come back here for highlights.
[Photo by Jon Durr / Getty Images Sport]