Too often this season, the Cubs have been confronted with questions about their inability to drive in base runners, to string hits together, to score in clutch situations. Sunday, the questions dealt with the exact opposite.
The Cubs put on a rare display of offensive firepower in the series finale with the visiting Houston Astros, scoring a season-high in runs in a 14-6 win in front of 35,121 at Wrigley Field. Their previous season-high was nine runs, a feat they accomplished three times before Sunday’s outburst.
The Cubs found a quick and potent remedy for their recent troubles when it came to driving in the runners they put on base. The offense touched Astros starting pitcher Jordan Lyles and the Houston bullpen for three huge innings: a four-run third, a three-run fifth and a four-run seventh. Sunday featured 14 runs on 16 hits, nine of which went for extra bases: five doubles, two triples and two home runs.
“When you’re hitting home runs and doubles and triples, you’re going to score a lot of runs,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said, “and more importantly adding on like we did.”
The Cubs scored early and often, with Nate Schierholtz’s two-run single in the third the biggest hit of that frame. Anthony Rizzo, Ryan Sweeney and Darwin Barney contributed RBI hits in the fifth. And both Sweeney and Rizzo blasted multi-run homers in the game’s later innings.
[WATCH -- Sveum: We always knew Sweeney could hit]
The third-through-sixth-place hitters in the lineup -- Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano, Rizzo and Sweeney -- combined to go 11-for-18 with 10 runs scored, seven of the team’s nine extra-base hits and 12 RBIs. And as for coming through with runners on base, the Cubs went 6-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
“[It was a good day] for everyone overall,” Rizzo said. “It was a hot, hot day, and we came out swinging and so did they. It was a close game and then we just got the hits that mattered. It was a good team win.”
“Any time you’re scoring 14 runs with 16 hits it’s kind of contagious,” Sweeney added. “Everybody hit the ball great today. It was fun to watch.”
Sweeney was the game’s offensive star, driving in six runs on the day -- a career-high. Entering the game, he had collected just seven RBIs all year.
“I just got into some good hitter’s counts, got some guys on base in the second and third,” said Sweeney, who drove in at least one run in four of his five plate appearances. “The first couple weeks, I hadn’t been so good with runners in scoring position, but the last couple games I’ve been trying to be focused on that and get those guys in when we need to.”
Sweeney’s big game earned praise from Sveum and his teammates. The outfielder -- now in his eighth major league season -- said he’s trying to reestablish himself as an everyday player. He’s had that opportunity in recent days with David DeJesus nursing a sprained shoulder on the disabled list. A performance like Sunday’s could go a long way toward making that a real possibility.
“I haven’t been able to play every day for the last couple years,” Sweeney said. “I’ve always been looking for the opportunity to be an everyday player. I just think that you get more in a groove and you get your swing and you can work on things when you’re an everyday player. It’s definitely tough to come in and only play once a week and pinch-hit and stuff like that.”
Someone who already has secured a featured role on this club is Jeff Samardzija, Sunday’s Cubs starter. He picked up the win despite not being quite as dominant as he has in the past. He allowed four runs over seven innings, walked none and struck out five.
“I felt pretty good with all my pitches today,” Samardzija said. “I got through the lineup the first time through with a low pitch count. We got a bunch of runs from the guys and it was great. In that situation, you probably don’t need all your stuff. You just need to pound the zone and get some quick outs and get them back in the dugout.”
Samardzija (5-7) took his fifth win on a day that started with manager Dale Sveum addressing the lack of run support some of the starting pitchers -- including Samardzija -- have received. Sunday marked the most run support the right-hander has received in a start this season. In only four of his previous 15 outings had the Cubs provided more than four runs.
But the story, of course, was the offense. The question now becomes whether the Cubs can carry a performance like this one over into their upcoming road trip, a long one that will feature nine games over the next 11 days with stops in Milwaukee, Seattle and Oakland. But a day off Monday ahead of the first game in Milwaukee on Tuesday might not exactly be very helpful.
“We’re going to be facing some tough pitchers in Milwaukee,” Sweeney said. “We’ve just got to build on what we had today. It’s good for us to have an off day since we’ve played so many games in a row, but for a game like that, to have an off day the next day -- you kind of wish you could still play again tomorrow. We’ll just rest tomorrow and get after it the next day.”