What the Cubs’ April performance says about their identity

The Cubs ended the month on a sour note but made surprising strides along the way.

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The Cubs’ Cody Bellinger celebrates after homering against the Marlins.

The Cubs’ Cody Bellinger celebrates after homering against the Marlins.

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MIAMI — A series full of comeback efforts and close games ended in a whimper for the Cubs. Marlins closer A.J. Puk retired three consecutive batters in the ninth inning to hand them a 4-3 loss, resulting in a series sweep.

Just like that, the Cubs wrapped up April. They will enter May with a 14-13 record, third in the division behind the Pirates and Brewers.

The sweep at the hands of the Marlins exposed some weaknesses, namely the Cubs’ pitching depth. It featured some sloppy mistakes, such as hit batters, a key baserunning lapse and an untimely passed ball. It also included some high-flying home runs and stretches of sound defense.

‘‘It’s just part of 162,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘We went 6-0 against the Phillies last year, and they go to the World Series. So I didn’t think we played bad baseball. . . . We can do some little things better, but that’s just baseball. They played better than we did this series, and we’ll go on to Washington and try to play as good as possible.’’

The series in Miami wrapped up a strong April schedule that pitted the Cubs against the Dodgers twice and had them traveling to the West Coast and back.

What did they show during the course of the month?

Offensive surprises

On Saturday, Cody Bellinger dropped a homer into the upper deck in right field. On Sunday, he hit another off the facing of the upper deck.

‘‘Didn’t really feel them,’’ Bellinger said. ‘‘That’s the best feeling. So I knew I got them. I was just seeing it well and staying within myself, not trying to do too much.’’

That approach has served him well. He has gone from a question mark entering the season to the Cubs’ most consistent source of left-handed power.

‘‘He’s a guy that’s going to be a big reason for our success if he keeps swinging the bat the way he is,’’ Ross said.

The top of the batting order — Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ — also has been clicking. Hoerner is on a 25-game on-base streak, the longest of any Cub since Kris Bryant in 2019. Patrick Wisdom, providing pop in the middle and bottom of the order, has hit a team-leading 10 homers.

The Cubs consistently have tacked on runs late in games. But in their comeback efforts in this series, they stranded 23 runners.

As the rotation goes . . .

A common theme this spring was the Cubs’ improved starting-pitching depth. But since Jameson Taillon (strained left groin) landed on the injured list this month, that depth has been shaky.

Javier Assad, who had a dominant spring in World Baseball Classic and Cactus League play, threw three innings in his spot start, giving up two runs to the Dodgers. Then Caleb Kilian surrendered seven runs in 3⅓ innings Saturday.

When the rotation has been healthy, it has served as a stabilizing force. Before Taillon went on the IL, the Cubs’ rotation had the best ERA in the National League at 2.96. Justin Steele, who held the Marlins to two earned runs in six innings Sunday, is starting to make a name for himself in his second full season as a starter.

Bullpen settling in

As the Cubs’ bullpen got more comfortable during the course of April, several relievers with less experience have shown growth.

Mark Leiter Jr., a converted starter, has built on experiences last season in high-leverage situations out of the bullpen. He has allowed two runs in 12 outings.

Adbert Alzolay, who has taken on a multifaceted relief role, has proved himself in high-pressure situations — such as entering the game down a run with a runner in scoring position and one out Sunday — and in multi-inning relief.

Keegan Thompson (1.80 ERA) consistently has limited damage, but he has as many walks (12) as strikeouts.

On the veteran side, back-end reliever Michael Fulmer seems to have pulled himself out of a recent rut. He has retired nine batters in a row in the course of his last three outings.

‘‘It’s a tight-knit group down there,’’ Fulmer said. ‘‘Everybody gets along with each other so far; nobody’s yelling at each other yet. And we all root for each other whenever our time comes.’’

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