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The sweep is the thing. Avoiding it, especially on the road and in the division, has saved the Cubs season. And after suffering one at quite an inopportune time this past weekend, it will take the Brewers awhile to recover, if they do at all this season.
In a given three-game stretch, of course, it doesn't mean much if a team wins two of three or three of three. But over the course of time . . .
The Cubs finished their most recent road trip with a 3-6 record and they have lost every road series they have played against division opponents all season long (!). But after they were swept in St. Louis early in the season they have avoided a similar fate time after time, including of course the game three win in Milwaukee and the game two victory in St. Louis.
Oh, and the Cubs have been completely dominant at home.
The starting pitching is also the thing. The Cubs' staff has been much better than the Brewers' all season long. But when Milwaukee ace Brandon Woodruff went down with an oblique strain two weeks ago, it widened the gap to where it was only a matter of time before a weekend like this one happened.
Woodruff is thought to be out for at least another four weeks.
Openers of the sort deployed by the Tampa Bay Rays regularly in the past season-and-a-half have been innovative. But they just don't beat a good old-fashioned starter delivering six-plus stellar innings. That was what Jose Quintana did to start this past weekend's action, and it set the tone.
Quintana ran into some trouble in the seventh on Friday and while one of the runners he put on at that point scored, the other did not. And from then on, the Cubs bullpen was dominant.
Joe Maddon had us all scratching our head when he deployed Kyle Ryan for a second consecutive day on Saturday. But he finished an inning in efficient fashion and fortunately was not needed on Sunday.
At this point Ryan is the guy most likely to be overused by the manager, who infamously left him in for two-and-a-third innings in a game about a week ago.
But Derek Holland rode to the rescue over the weekend. The veteran lefty who Theo picked up from the San Francisco Giants for cash considerations early last week has been good enough against lefties in general and Christian Yelich in particular to have earned Maddon's trust virtually immediately.
And yes, he gave up a three-run home run to the Cardinals' Matt Wieters on Thursday. Otherwise he has been lights out. And hopefully his effectiveness will be enough to discourage Ryan abuse.
Maybe best of all has been the boost given to the top of the order by Jason Heyward's strong play and Nicholas Castellanos settling right into the No. 2 spot. Heyward's leadoff home run on Friday helped pace the Cubs, and then when he hit another one on Sunday, it meant the Cubs were bouncing right back after Yelich had hit a round-tripper of his own in the top of the first.
What a joy to see Castellanos grinding out at-bats right from the get-go. He is a pro's pro in the batter's box and so far at least he feels like just the addition the Cubs needed to spark a hitting renaissance. Then again, perhaps we will reserve judgement until the Cubs hit the road again.
This week starts with three at home against the A's starting tonight. Oakland just finished sweeping two from the Cardinals over the weekend after the team took two of three from the Brewers earlier last week. Then the first of those road tests arrives.
In fact it is a big, ol' road trip that kicks in Thursday. The Cubs play four in Cincinnati followed by three in Philly and three in Pittsburgh. If they are still in front after that stretch, then we are onto something.
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