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For the second straight year, Cubs ‘trending’ in August

Cubs getting healthy? Jorge Soler celebrates Sunday after his second home run in three games since coming off the DL.

OAKLAND, Calif. – These are said to be the days that try baseball players’ soles.

And knees, ankles, hamstrings, quads, shoulders, backs and gray matter.

So what’s the deal with the Cubs?

“I don’t think it’s explainable,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after Sunday’s 3-1 victory over the Oakland Athletics.

For the second year in a row, the Cubs are kicking the bite out of the notorious Dog Days of August – surging as rivals sag, getting healthy as others lag.

With their weekend sweep over the moribund A’s, the Cubs have won seven consecutive games and 10 of their last 11.

Their 10-1 rush started with game No. 100 – the same point last year they began a 15-1 surge that jump-started a 45-18 finish toward the playoffs.

“It just feels like we can win every game out there right now,” said Kris Bryant, whose career-high 28th home run leading off the sixth gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead on a day he reached base four times.

“Almost starting another season in terms of the second half was huge for us,” Bryant added. “I knew we’d come out in the second half rested and ready to go, and I think we’re seeing that right now.”

Until winning the final game before the All-Star break, the Cubs had lost 15 of 20. Since then, they’re 17-6.

“It’s just trending in the right direction,” manager Joe Maddon said.

And despite Rizzo’s suggestion that it’s inexplicable or just a function of the natural ups and downs of baseball, it is wholly by design. Not that it always works, but the policy of regular days off in the first half and a frequent ban on batting practice into the summer months is supposed to create fresher legs and fresher minds at a point in the season that often feels like quicksand to everyday players.

“If you’re rested you have a chance to play well in August,” Maddon said.

The large number of 26-and-under players in the Cubs’ everyday core also makes a difference.

So does the Cubs’ 25-6 start this season that took a lot of the stress out of the 5-15 stretch.

“When you catch an early lead, it does permit you to bump your toe and still not have to press so hard that it can be a negative impact this time of the year,” Maddon said.

But maybe more than anything there is this:

“You can’t get hot without good pitching, and our starters have been fantastic,” Maddon said.

Nobody more than Hendricks (11-7), who earned his seventh win in eight decisions – and whose 16-inning scoreless streak was snapped one out into the eight when Marcus Semien, his final batter, homered.

In all, the top-performing rotation in the majors is 8-1 with a 1.96 ERA during the Dog-Day surge, averaging 6 2/3 innings a start – 1.28 and more than seven innings a start when spot-starting Brian Matusz’ aberration is tossed out.

Hendricks calls Maddon’s approach “huge,” between the rest and a be-yourself, reduced-pressure culture.

“It just seems we needed the rest at the All-Star break to get back to the type of team we are,” said veteran Ben Zobrist, who’s 13-for-35 (.371) with six extra-base hits and three walks during the 11-game surge.

“We knew that we weren’t the team that we had been in June,” he said. “We knew we could get back to playing good baseball on a nightly basis, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We just need to be able to keep that going as long as we can.”