By Bruce Levine–

CHICAGO (CBS) — During their championship season of 2016, the Cubs boasted a run differential that for a time flirted with historic heights before ending the year at plus-252.

Early on this season, that mark has hovered around zero, as the Cubs have had a handful of inconsistent stretches. If the completion of a three-game sweep of the Reds with a 9-5 win on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field is any indication, the run differential mark that hints at how good a team really is may be turning around. Chicago outscored Cincinnati 25-15 in the series, with its offense giving its pitching staff some breathing room that had been missing earlier in the season.

“I would like to see this trend continue,” manager Joe Maddon said about the productive offensive series. “Everyone last year was talking about run differential and how good our offense is. You’re right — we do have a good offense. The difference was really created by the starting pitching and pitching in general last year. The defense as well. When you pitch and catch the ball like that, you are going to spread it out. Run differential wise, you are just going to (improve). I am telling you, man, I would much prefer that method going toward the end of the season, trying to win it that way. We are still not there yet. Everything is getting better. If you talk to our guys, I think they will tell you the same thing.”

Prior to sweeping the Reds, the Cubs were middle of the pack with a run differential of plus-2. That mark is now at plus-12, helped Thursday by a grand slam by Javier Baez and a homer from Kris Bryant that helped the Cubs open up a 9-0 lead and back Jon Lester, who earned the win in going six innings and allowing three runs on six hits, one walk and five strikeouts. The wind blowing out for much of the series was a factor in the Cubs’ offensive surge as well.

The Cubs now are 17-7 when scoring more than four runs in a game this season and 4-12 when scoring three or fewer runs. They’re also 12-3 when homering at least twice in a game.

“When you get those five runs early on, I think it allows you not to have to be so fine,” Lester said. “The run support is big because you can go back to the plate and basically say, ‘Here it is, just hit it.’ The thinking is you are going to have to hit your way back into the game. You are not going to walk your way back in.”

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.

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