There was a lot to remember about the Cubs’ 14-9 win Saturday over the Twins.
The Cubs scored at least 10 runs for the third consecutive game, which they hadn’t done since April 15-17, 2003. Once again, Wrigley Field was sweltering, with a game-time temperature of 91 degrees and heat index of 101. Those numbers rose to 96 and 107, respectively.
It also marked the halfway point of a season that still has exceedingly high expectations but has been pockmarked with frustrations and injuries.
“We’ve played pretty well in spurts,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We still haven’t played to our capabilities 100 percent yet.”
It’d be hard to perform much better at the plate. The Cubs have scored 35 runs in the last three games, collecting a season-high 20 hits Saturday, including 17 singles.
“I think we’re getting better and better as days go by,” said Albert Almora Jr., who went 3-for-3 to raise his average to .332 before leaving in the fifth inning with leg cramps. “These are great signs of what happened today, getting it done not hitting extra-base hits. That is special. Fourteen runs is awesome.”
It happened on a day that was so hot three Twins players left with heat illness and there were large swaths of empty seats on the first-base side and in the bleachers because of the sunshine. Even Javy Baez, born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, said “it was actually really hot,” but he was used to it because of where he grew up.
“You’ve just got to stay [hydrated] and drink a lot of water,” Baez said. “You know it’s going to happen because, especially here, we’ve been playing in the cold pretty much until now. You’re just trying to get used to it and then play it through.”
The Cubs had to overcome more than the heat. They trailed the Twins 3-0 and 7-4 and were tied 9-9 after six innings.
“Give our guys credit,” Maddon said. “[The Twins] got up, we fought back again and [had] some wonderful at-bats.”
Obviously, more offensive days such as this one would be welcomed by the Cubs (46-35), who trail the National League Central-leading Brewers by 1½ games. They’re in that spot despite an inconsistent rotation and recent injuries to Kris Bryant and Brandon Morrow, not to mention all the twists and turns with $126 million free agent Yu Darvish.
Their record is six games better this year than it was at this point last year (40-41), but the place in the standings is pretty much the same as 2017, when the Cubs hit the halfway point three games behind the Brewers. The Cubs again are looking up at a Milwaukee team that appears to be much improved and could be primed to make a major move before the trade deadline.
And the Cubs might not be in position to make a splash of their own. The 2016 trade for Aroldis Chapman and last year’s acquisitions of Jose Quintana and Justin Wilson have reduced the prospect capital a team would need to land an elite player.
The biggest improvement might come from lower-tier acquisitions or from within. That would mean injured players returning to form, more long outings from the rotation, the bullpen settling into the order Maddon wants and more of “the natural ascension” the Cubs’ manager is seeing from his players.
“There’s been some things that have happened that, in spite of, we’re still in pretty good position,” Maddon said.