ST. LOUIS – A few games in June against other top division rivals don’t usually amount to much reason for scrutiny or rapt attention.
But with six weeks to go before baseball’s trading deadline, the Cubs’ front office is closely watching weeks like this one, against the division-leading Brewers and the third-place Cardinals.
“I think we saw last year as a three-team race, and certainly we see this very much as it’s going to be a race all year,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “And there’s a huge benefit to winning the division. We have to view it from that lens. That’s the lens of reality.”
As they gear up for substantive talks with sellers over the next few weeks, both Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein say their deadline needs are still taking shape – though pitching depth is certain to be a focus.
The players, meanwhile, have spent the past two nights in St. Louis keeping the front office’s focus and potential aggressive posture relevant by beating up on their rivals and inching closer to the Brewers.
After back-to-back shutouts in a series loss to the Brewers earlier in the week, the Cubs have pounded Cardinals pitching for five home runs and 19 runs in back-to-back victories to open a three-game weekend series at Busch Stadium.
Saturday night it was Addison Russell and Jason Heyward providing the power in a 6-3 victory to back six innings by starter Kyle Hendricks in 92-degree humidity.
Combined with Milwaukee’s loss to the Phillies, the Cubs moved to a half-game behind the Brewers.
“What we may need on July 31 may be totally different than we know sitting here right now,” Hoyer said. “I do think right now, the answers are here. I think we have enough depth offensively. We have the right position players.”
They combined for 24 hits and 13 walks over the past two nights against two of the Cardinals top starters in Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, and the Cards’ bullpen.
Hendricks (5-6) snapped a career-long three-game personal losing streak when the Ian Happ doubled home a run with two out in the seventh for the go-ahead run.
He was the only National League pitcher with qualifying innings to have a losing record despite an ERA of 3.50 or better – mostly because the Cubs scored a total of three runs in his previous three starts.
The Cubs are 3-4 against the Cards with 12 to play this year, 8-3 against the Brewers with eight to play and 5-4 against the fourth-place Pirates with 10 to play.
“It’s going to be a battle all the way to the end it seems like,” said closer Brandon Morrow, who survived the rust in his first outing in nine days to earn the save. “Those guys aren’t going away unless we can put them away.
“It’s not early, but it’s still plenty of season to go.”
Arm strength report
Starter Yu Darvish (triceps) and reliever Carl Edwards Jr. (shoulder) both fared well overnight after throwing sessions Friday and are expected to resume their throwing programs early in the week when the Cubs return home for a three-game series against the Dodgers.
Both are hopeful for returns from the DL before next month’s All-Star game.