ST. LOUIS — Go on, raise your hand if you saw the first inning the Cubs offense enjoyed Tuesday coming.
A leadoff double for Dexter Fowler. A run-scoring base hit by Kris Bryant. A single from Anthony Rizzo. A pair of walks for Ben Zobrist and Jorge Soler. Back-to-back two-out, two-run doubles by David Ross and pitcher Jason Hammel.
In all, the Cubs — who’d scored three or fewer runs in seven of their previous eight games, six of them losses — sent 10 batters to the plate and laid into Michael Wacha and the Cardinals for six first-inning runs in a 12-3 victory.
If only the Cubs could start every game with such a flurry, they’d really be on to something.
Yet one gets the sense — especially with Jake Arrieta set to take the mound in Wednesday’s series finale — that the Cubs might answer a 4-8 slide with an end-of-May flourish.
A flourish that could, mind you, last plenty longer than that.
Many of the Cubs players feel another hot streak coming. Go on, raise your hand if you do, too.
“Oh, for sure,” Fowler said. “I don’t think we’ll be in the tank too long with the type of talent we have and the way the attitudes are in this clubhouse. With the talent we have, we think we can win every game.”
As Anthony Rizzo sees it, the feeling that the Cubs are the hottest team in baseball never left, not even as they dropped series to the lowly Padres and Brewers and, prior to this St. Louis trip, to the sizzling Giants.
“Last time I checked, we still had the best record in the big leagues, right?” Rizzo said. “So we’ve won a ton of games. So I don’t think that feeling needs to come back.”
The return to the lineup of right fielder Jason Heyward, who missed three games with an injury to his rib cage after a circus catch in San Francisco, can only help. Heyward’s bat has been quiet all season — he was 0-for-5 with a walk in his first game back — but his overall “presence,” according to manager Joe Maddon, has been a significant asset.
“He’ll get through it,” Maddon said, “and he’ll still come out on the other side with a vengeance. There isn’t a doubt in my mind. … Believe me, he’s going to put up his numbers by the end of the season.”
Maddon likewise continues to promise big things ahead for left fielder Jorge Soler, who entered Tuesday hitting .192 with only three home runs and seven RBIs and exited it having added two hits — including a towering homer to dead center — a pair of walks and three runs driven in to his stat line.
Of course, starting pitching continues to be the Cubs’ greatest strength. Jason Hammel went 7 1/3 innings, allowing four hits and one earned run to get to 6-1 on the season. And Hammel isn’t even one of the team’s trio of aces, as catcher Miguel Montero describes them.
“If you look at it realistically,” Montero said, “you’ve got John Lackey, you’ve got Jon Lester and you’ve got Jake Arrieta. Those are three aces for any other team, and we’ve got the privilege to have them on the same team.
“That’s why we’re about to win a lot of games, for sure. I don’t doubt that, and I don’t think anybody on this team doubts that.”
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