The Cubs entered Friday’s series opener with the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks winners of four straight, coming fresh off a three-game sweep of the White Sox, every game of which was lopsided in the North Siders’ advantage.
So the question now remains, how do the Cubs keep this going?
It’s very possible that the D-backs could halt the Cubs’ longest winning streak of the season -- their longest winning streak since they won four games Sept. 7-10 of last season -- within a few hours of first pitch on Friday. But before the game, the Cubs had their own ideas of riding the wave that saw them engineer three consecutive thumpings against the Sox.
“Just taking the same game plan and attitude and intensity into every game as we did the last three,” said starting pitcher Travis Wood, who banged a grand slam in Thursday’s Crosstown finale. “Nobody’s going to stay as hot as we are, scoring eight or nine runs a game, but hopefully we can just keep scoring runs and keeping our team in the ballgame, playing well on all cylinders.”
The Cubs outscored the Sox 24-6 over their rain-shortened three-game set, getting great hitting, great pitching and great everything in between. Wood said that intensity played a big role in the Crosstown Cup games, as the Cubs fed off the fans and the rivalry.
“With it being the rivalry game and the Crosstown series, I think that added a lot of intensity and we were able to get really up for the game. You want to do your best,” Wood said. “And also coming off the big come-from-behind win in Cincinnati leading into this, I think all that wrapped together got us kind of going, and hopefully we can stay right there.”
So now that a team whose jerseys don’t read “Chicago” is in the visitors dugout at the Friendly Confines, can the Cubs keep their intensity levels high? Is it harder to carry the intensity over than it is the results?
“I wouldn’t say so,” Wood said. “Winning’s always more fun than losing, and the way we’ve been playing lately, I think everybody got a taste of how good it feels and I think we’ll stay right there.
“You’ve got to take every game as if it’s your last, so play as hard as you can every play.”
It’s unknown whether or not this is the way the Cubs are supposed to look, a debate that’s fueled a bit of discussion in various Internet circles of late. The Cubs, who are eight games under .500 at 22-30 and rested 12 1/2 games out of first place when they arrived at the ballpark on Friday, have a positive run differential. They’ve actually outscored their opponents 214-208 this season, a figure that is rare for a team with their record.
Manager Dale Sveum agreed, that is quite unusual.
“We’ve been in pretty much every single game of the year,” Sveum said. “It’s a very odd record for the run differential, that’s for sure. At one point, we were 11 or 12 games under .500, and it was still really, really good. Now we’re winning four in a row, it comes back to Earth a little bit. It’s a very strange run differential for being under .500.
“Early on, we gave so many games away that it was tough to recover from that. The bullpen problems, obviously we played some pretty shady defense the first month of the season. That’s gotten better. We’ve shored up the bullpen, guys have been doing a pretty good job in the bullpen, so you start winning more games that way instead of giving them away.”
The Cubs’ winning streak of four games is hardly enough to change a season outlook, but what started in Cincinnati -- the game that Sveum says is more responsible for the current run than Jeff Samardzija’s dazzling performance on the South Side or anything else against the Sox -- could snowball. Starting pitcher Scott Feldman said that runs can turn a season around in a hurry.
“Hopefully,” Feldman said. “If we get hot and roll off eight out of 10, do that a couple times, we’ll be right back in the mix. Hopefully we can keep playing well.”