By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Raucous cheers echoed throughout Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon.READ MORE: Chicago Police Investigate Shooting Of Off-Duty Officer
They came from concourse — Sweep! Sweep! Sweep! — and were just as loud from the third-base clubhouse, where the Cubs filed in to celebrate their four straight wins over the defending champion San Francisco Giants.
F— yeah, boys!
Two Sundays ago, Chicago swept by Philadelphia, the worst team in baseball. The Cubs blew a ninth-inning lead on that Friday, were no-hit on that Saturday and got pounded that Sunday. It was ugly all the way.
But Joe Maddon, the veteran baseball mind, conveyed the same message to the public as he did to this previously slumping Cubs team. It’s a long season, with highs and lows.
The Cubs have won 11 of 13 games since that Phillies sweep, seemingly sparked by Kris Bryant’s walk-off homer against Rockies on July 27. Along with the Blue Jays, the Cubs are the hottest team in baseball, and each win is still reason to celebrate.
Players returned to their clubhouse Sunday and set off their smoke machine, pumped their music and partied.
Maddon loves it. “The more raucous, the better,” he said earlier this year — because it keeps the team loose during the course of this 162-game grind. But he also knows to keep proper perspective.
“I hate to go baseball psychobabble on you, but it’s about one day at a time,” Maddon said.
After all, baseball players, managers, coaches and especially executives understand how grueling this season is. But there’s a reality on Chicago’s North side.
These Cubs are darn good. Their bats are alive, with Kyle Schwarber now blasting baseballs alongside Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler. Their pitching has been superb, with Jake Arrieta pushing Jon Lester for that “ace” label.
“Locked in,” Arrieta said when asked how to describe his recent stellar performances.READ MORE: First Case Of Omicron Variant In Wisconsin Confirmed
Look at the NL wild-card race and you now find Chicago 3.5 games up on the San Francisco for the second berth. Remarkably, the Cubs trailed the Giants by that same margin just two weeks ago.
Brutally honest as always, Maddon admits he checks the standings daily. He’s constantly scoreboard watching. But another thing he can appreciate is the Cubs are just playing good baseball. No Giants pitcher lasted more than five innings this weekend, because the Cubs took pitches. Jake Peavy threw 38 pitches in the first inning on Sunday, including 13 to lead-off man Dexter Fowler.
Outside of some bullpen concerns, the Cubs did just about everything right in sweeping the Giants.
“Overall, it’s big,” Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. “It builds up a lot of confidence, which I think we had already.”
The Cubs have seen their young stars grow up this season. Bryant deserves many Rookie of the Year votes, and Schwarber has entered the conversation. Addison Russell has been more than productive, and Soler flashed with his big bat lately. Meanwhile, Rizzo, now 26, deserves to be in the MVP talk.
Factor in how Lester has been dominant as of late, Arrieta has become one of the best arms in baseball, all while Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks have been quality, and you have the mix for a playoff team.
Maddon won’t take the credit for the Cubs’ success, but he surely deserves a lot of it. He made the shrewd move recently of sitting the struggling Starlin Castro, has pressed all the right buttons with the pitching staff and has given the team what it needs with in-game strategy. This was on display during this San Francisco sweep, which Maddon managed like a playoff series.
Plenty had to come together for these young, rising Cubs to find playoff contention, yet here they are with a hefty lead for the second wild-card spot. What has happened in short time is that this team has overcome struggles and found its best baseball. If the Cubs keep this up, they’ll challenge the Pirates and maybe even the Cardinals.
After Sunday’s win, Fangraphs slates the Cubs with an 81.2 percent at making the playoffs. Two Sundays ago, those chances were below 50 percent. A lot has changed since then.
Cheers throughout Wrigley Field were warranted, because the Cubs have been sensational as of late. It felt like a playoff atmosphere at the Friendly Confines.
And the Cubs may just be on their way to the playoffs.MORE NEWS: Oak Park And River Forest High School Ban On Activities Due To COVID Outbreak Sparks Outrage
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.