I honestly cannot remember a Cubs midsummer homestand that was as much fun as this one since at least 2008... and maybe before that.
Mike Bojanowski mentioned to me that this was somewhat reminiscent of a 1984 homestand in which the Cubs took six straight from the Expos and Mets and solidified their hold on first place in the N.L. East, a hold they never relinquished.
Though the Cubs are nowhere close to first place, this season-high seven-game winning streak puts them solidly in charge of the second wild-card spot and if the Cardinals beat the Pirates again tonight, just half a game behind Pittsburgh for the top wild-card position.
Thursday afternoon's 9-2 Cubs win over the Brewers, played in warm temperatures, brilliant sunshine and a joyful full house of 40,799, was punctuated by home runs, a season-high five of them, two from Kyle Schwarber, who now has eight in just 103 at-bats.
The scoring started slowly, though, as the Cubs sneaked a run across the plate in the second on a walk to Anthony Rizzo and two singles off Tyler Cravy. That's when the Brewers dusted off their scouting report on Jon Lester and started running like crazy on him in the third inning. They stole four bases and Lester made a... well, sort-of pickoff attempt that headed toward the Rizzo Memorial Tarp, but even at that, Milwaukee got just one run out of all that running and the game headed into the middle innings tied.
In the fifth, after a one-out walk to Addison Russell, Dexter Fowler hit a ball that bounced crazily off the top of the wall and back onto the field. There's no way a ball that bounces like that didn't hit over the basket, because in order to bounce like that, it had to hit the concrete top of the bleacher wall. Here, have a look for yourself:
That's an umpire review, separate from the challenge system. Russell scored easily and Fowler stood on second base while the review was going on -- far too long, in my opinion, this one should have been an easy call. It gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead and unleashed the power bats. Schwarber followed with his first homer of the day, and one out later, Rizzo smashed a homer to center field. It's been a while since the Cubs had a three-homer inning:
That gave the Cubs a 5-1 lead and Lester gutted out a sixth inning in which he allowed a run, but ended it with two K's, giving him 10 for the game, and that marked this note for Cubs franchise history:
Granted that the Cubs haven't had too many great lefthanded starters in their history, but... more than Ken Holtzman ever had in a season, more than Ted Lilly, more than Hippo Vaughn. Lester didn't have his best stuff for this one, but had enough to put together six decent innings, and the offense did the rest.
Schwarber's second home run made it 7-2 in the seventh, and Chris Denorfia, who came in to replace Jorge Soler in right field after that inning hit one in the eighth, his second. Schwarber came up in that inning with Fowler on second, with a chance for a three-homer game. His RBI single completed the scoring and gave him a 3-for-4 day with two homers, two runs and four RBI. I imagine Joe Maddon will probably give him a break from left field during the White Sox series by having him DH at least one of the games, and perhaps catch one of the others.
The win put the Cubs 10 games over .500 at home, 34-24, and after a very slow start in Wrigley Field games this year the team is learning to win at home. The 34 home wins ranks fifth in the N.L., after the Mets, Cardinals, Pirates and Dodgers. That's why it would be nice to get into that first wild-card position and play whoever the other wild card is at home, because of those other four teams, only one (Cardinals) has a winning record on the road.
The Cubs now need go just 25-24 to win 90 games this year, and that's completely unexpected, I think you'll agree. I think we all figured the Cubs to be an improved club this year, but a 90-win team? 17 games up on 2014? No way. But the team Theo & Co. put together, and Joe Maddon's leadership, have put the Cubs on a playoff course. The current team winning percentage of .575 puts them on pace for 93 wins, and 28-21 would do that, and who's to say they can't?
This is tremendous fun. Baseball is awesomely fun when you win... and not only that, but this team is doing it with a complete team effort, with new heroes every day. Seven in a row. 13 of 14. 14 of 16. Keep it going!
Site note: if things seemed a little slow or off this morning, it's because I was part of this massive Comcast outage which wasn't repaired until after I left for Wrigley. Spent the morning at two different Starbucks (the first one was having the same outage) in order to get last night's recap done.
Finally, remember this: while the Cubs are on a roll right now, it's not supposed to look this easy and no matter who they play, they have to focus their efforts on winning, one game at a time. I think they have the right manager to keep them on that path. The White Sox are coming off a sweep of a good Angels team and they will certainly be primed for the Cubs and their fans to invade the South Side starting Friday, with ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija facing Kyle Hendricks.