Cubs 14, Astros 6: Ryan Sweeney's Big Day

USA TODAY Sports

The Cubs had their biggest offensive production in almost a year, and they might have found themselves a center fielder.

This has been mentioned several times in comments here, but after Sunday's 14-6 Cubs win over the Astros, it bears repeating in a front-page post.

That is: the Cubs appear, at last, to have gotten what they expected from Brett Jackson in the starting lineup, only his name is Ryan Sweeney.

Sweeney doubled twice and hit a three-run homer, had a career-high six RBI, and generally has given the Cubs everything they hoped to get from Jackson, with the exception of speed on the based. Sweeney has hit for average, drawn some walks, and shown power -- he's now got 13 extra-base hits (nine doubles, a triple, three home runs) in 94 major-league at-bats since his recall. He's even hitting lefthanders well -- the home run was off lefty Wade LeBlanc -- and overall he's 12-for-32 (.375) against lefties with two doubles, a triple and a home run.

So maybe the Cubs have found a center fielder, at least for a couple of years. Sweeney might never be an All-Star, but he looks like he can play center field on an everyday basis. He's 28 -- about three years older than Jackson -- so he should be in his prime years. At the very least, it will give the Cubs the ability to trade David DeJesus when he returns from the DL without losing any production in center field. Meanwhile, Brett Jackson is on the disabled list again, and I suspect his time to make the majors, at least with the Cubs, might have come and gone.

Thus on a hot and sticky day, the Cubs pounded out 16 hits off four Houston pitchers; the 14 runs was not only a season high, so was the eight-run margin of victory. It was the most runs the Cubs had scored this year by five -- they hadn't been in double figures in 2013 -- and the most since a 14-4 win over the Pirates July 30, 2012. It made the Cubs' run differential -12 (299 scored, 311 allowed); given that, the Cubs should be 36-38 instead of 31-43. The five-win differential is quite large for this time of year.

We all know the reasons for that -- primarily bad bullpen work. Sunday, that didn't matter, with the offensive explosion. Anthony Rizzo also had a big day with a single, double, home run and sacrifice fly, driving in four runs and scoring four times. Darwin Barney had two singles, Alfonso Soriano two doubles and Nate Schierholtz two singles. The Cubs also went 6-for-11 with RISP, more RISP hits than they usually get in a week.

All of that meant it didn't matter -- much -- that Jeff Samardzija was getting hit pretty hard; he wound up allowing three earned runs on nine hits in seven innings. That's a "quality start", but there wasn't much "quality" to it; even the outs off Shark were hit pretty hard, as he gave up eight fly-ball outs and turned a nifty double play on a screamer hit right back to him in the seventh inning.

The other thing that didn't look good today was Starlin Castro's defense (never mind his hitting; he walked once, hit the ball on the line a couple of times for outs, then struck out on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh). Castro made a throwing error on a ball that should have ended the fourth inning; that allowed a run to score. Then he made another error when he dropped a throw in the ninth inning for a potential force play. Truth be told, Rizzo should never have made that throw; it was off-balance with the runner heading toward Castro, not an easy throw. With a nine-run lead, what difference does it make if you get the lead runner? Take the easy out. The whole ninth inning wasn't performed particularly well; it was the perfect time for Henry Rodriguez to just whip 99 mile-per-hour fastballs into the strike zone. Some of them got there, some didn't, and Rodriguez issued a walk. The error helped an unearned run to score off Rodriguez on a double play.

All told, five of the 20 runs scored Sunday were unearned, something you might expect when two not-very-good teams play each other. And unlike recent seasons where we'd see the Astros all the time, since they're now an American League team, it might be three years or more before the next Houston visit to Wrigley Field. The Cubs improved their record in interleague games to 8-3 with the victory, with six more such games remaining (three at Seattle, three at Oakland, two at Wrigley against the Angels). Just one more interleague win will give the Cubs their first winning season in interleague competition since 2007.

So, on a hot and sticky and breezy afternoon, the Cubs won, won another series, and now head to Milwaukee tied with the Brewers, so they can have a colossal battle for fourth place in the N.L. Central after an off day Monday.

Erik Peterson, who you well know here and who does such a good job with Cub Tracks, stopped by to say hello before the game -- first time I had met him. (Sorry, Erik, that you got such a harangue from my friend Phil!) Nice to meet you, and nice afternoon at the ballpark

More on Monday's off day: we'll have several of the usual features here, including more looks at possible Cubs trade partners. Naveen is traveling out of the country, so this week's stat wrap will be postponed a week and the next one will cover two weeks. One thing to watch for: since the Cubs are off and the Blackhawks could win the Stanley Cup with a victory in Boston Monday night, I'm going to open up a front-page game thread for Game 6. It will post at 6 p.m CT Monday evening, so you'll have an hour to get ready before game time.

Go Blackhawks!

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