By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) — The Chicago Cubs have the best record in the National League over the past month.
That shocking revelation is part about the evolving Cubs team and part the mediocre competition in baseball this season. On any given day of the first 70 games of the season, upwards of 25 teams were within three games of the break even mark.
The Cubs are 18-13 over their last 31 games. They are riding the wave of an 11-7 record in June.
One of the main reasons for the sudden surge has been hot hitters Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Both have hit well over .300 during the current upswing.
“This is the nicest feeling Ii have had since have been here,” Rizzo related. “Everyone on this team now expects to win games now. We all seem to have that extra swagger.”
Rizzo and the other Cubs are not getting ahead of themselves.
“We have been in almost every game this year,” he said. “I think we have the pitching to stay there, we just need to keep are head down. When we come in everyday, everyone does their work and if we see anybody slack off, someone will jump on them real quick and get them on track.”
Rizzo and Castro are both All Star candidates. Castro has the better shot with only Troy Tulowitzki putting up bigger numbers among National League shortstops.
“Starlin is just more relaxed,” said Rizzo. “Last year is behind him, behind both of us for that matter. He is relaxed and playing loose, he is playing better shortstop as well. We as a team are grinding at bats out and seeing better pitches. The better our at bats the more stressful it is on the opposing pitchers. The more stress they feel the more they are going to hang pitches.”
Rizzo has 11 home runs since April 30.That is fourth most in the NL in that span. Castro hit his 11th home run on Friday, surpassing his entire total for 2013. Manager Rick Renteria and his staff are getting a lot of credit for establishing the right atmosphere in the clubhouse and on the practice field.
“We can’t panic when thing go wrong,” said Renteria. “If they panic in our eyes and see concern in our eyes, it reflects on them.”
Renteria was hired to get his message across to Castro and Rizzo and communicate with them on all levels. He believes on the outside looking in Castro was singled out last season as all things wrong with the Cubs.
“In my humble opinion it was like if it started raining it was his fault. If there was a car accident it was his fault. I think the whole thing was unfair. He is a guy who thrives on positive reinforcement, as most players do. He has learned, he has had a lot of [managers] come through his life in this dugout, and because of that he is doing better.”
The Cubs have a slightly better record through the same period as last season with a 31-40 record in 2014 compared to 29-42 in 2013. However they are light years ahead with talent from the two previous seasons.