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Cubs cap April with best record in game, and they’re winning big

Matt Szczur celebrates with manager Joe Maddon after hitting a grand slam in the win Friday. The Cubs also are celebrating their hot start, closing April with a 17-5 record. | AP

An April rainout in Chicago is nothing new, but the Cubs in first place? That’s something baseball fans around town could get used to.

At 17-5, the Cubs closed the first month of the season with the best record in baseball.

“Coming out of spring training, we talked about getting off to a good start,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game Saturday against the Braves was postponed because of rain. “I don’t think it could have gone any better. You’re not going to be perfect.”

What has been most awe-inspiring is how they’ve won.

Baseball isn’t a sport that inspires much conversation about margin of victory, but the Cubs are beating opponents by an average of 3.6 runs. The Mets and Cardinals entered the day a distant second at 1.9.

To put those numbers in perspective, the best average margin of victory by any team last season was the Blue Jays at 1.4.

The Cubs owe much of their success to pitching, which by nearly any metric has been the best in baseball.

The rotation and bullpen have combined for a 2.39 ERA, second-best in the majors behind the -Nationals (2.36).

“You can’t ask for a better month out of the entire group, starting and relieving,” Maddon said.

On offense, the Cubs haven’t put up particularly overwhelming individual numbers, hitting just .255. Anthony Rizzo is batting .218. But Maddon has been impressed with the quality of his team’s at-bats.

The Cubs have drawn 121 walks, the most in the majors, and scored 136 runs, which is second to the Cardinals’ 142. Even with his lowly average, Rizzo has driven in a team-best 24 runs, which is tied with Bryce Harper for the league lead.

“What Rizzo has done this month, those RBIs with a low batting average,” Maddon said, “it’s good to see because you know he’s going to hit even better average-wise as we move further along.”

Perhaps the least discussed element of the team’s success is the defense. The Cubs have the best total defense, according to the advanced metrics at FanGraphs.com.

Maddon has done his part by nurturing a loose, fun atmosphere in the clubhouse. In fact, the Cubs will have their first themed road trip of the season next week in Pittsburgh. Maddon is coining it the “zany minimalist suit trip.” He said he’ll be wearing a suit with -tulips on it.

“I would not want to be a part of another kind of locker room, one that is the opposite of this,” Maddon said. “I’ve been there. I don’t like it. It’s counterproductive.”

Needless to say, whatever he’s doing is working.

Notes: John Lackey, who was supposed to pitch Saturday, will start the finale Sunday. Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester will pitch in Pittsburgh, and Kyle Hendricks will face the -Nationals on Thursday.

υ No makeup date for the game Saturday was announced.

Follow me on Twitter @davidjustCST.