CHICAGO -- This is scoreboard-watching season, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon insisted on Saturday morning that he did not realize the Cardinals were playing the Brewers until someone pointed it out. Given the implications on the standings, Maddon was asked which team he preferred to win.
"Our goal is to win the division," Maddon said. "So you want any kind of help you can possibly get to win the division. So that would be that the Brewers would beat the Cardinals. But again, it doesn't matter. It's just that, 'Cubs win, Cubs win.' We've just got to take care of our own house."
The Cubs did that in overwhelming fashion on Saturday, pounding out a 14-1 win over the Pirates that included setting the single-season club record for home runs. That milestone blast came off the bat of rookie shortstop Nico Hoerner, who is the latest in a wave of players joining the fold to give Chicago a needed jolt.
The North Siders added Nicholas Castellanos at the July 31 Trade Deadline, and the outfielder has been a catalyst for the heart of the lineup since donning the blue pinstripes. Ben Zobrist returned on Sept. 1 after a four-month hiatus while on the restricted list, and he has provided the leadership, example and production hoped for by the Cubs.
And then came Hoerner, who was unexpectedly called up from Double-A Tennessee on Sunday and has not ceased smiling while collecting hit after hit over the past six games.
"It's really cool to see how happy and excited he is," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "He's coming up in a push like this on a team like we are -- it's refreshing to see."
Castellanos, Zobrist and Hoerner each played a key role in the Cubs' latest win, which pulled the club within three games of the National League Central-leading Cardinals, who lost to the Brewers. The Cubs' lead over the Brewers for the NL's second Wild Card slot remains at one game.
In the second inning, Castellanos delivered a bases-clearing double; the Cubs' showing with the bases loaded amounted to 6-for-11 with 15 RBIs over the past two games. He added another double in the fourth, marking his 52nd two-base hit of the season. Since joining the Cubs, Castellanos has made himself at home at Wrigley Field, hitting .405/.422/.810 in the ballpark.
"I don't know where we'd be without Nick right now at this point," Zobrist said. "I mean, he's been so clutch for this club. He's been the heart and soul of the order since he showed up. He just keeps getting extra-base hits. So it's been impressive to watch."
The 38-year-old Zobrist said he is still shaking off the rust in the batter's box, but he reached base three times in Saturday's win. Facing righty James Marvel in the third, the utility man belted a solo home run -- his first shot since Aug. 18 of last season. Since rejoining Chicago, all Zobrist has done is go 9-for-26 (.346) with three multi-hit showings in nine games.
"It kind of feels like Spring Training," said Kris Bryant, "when you have so many people there, new people, new faces, and you're super excited to show up at the field. Obviously, Ben's been here a while, but for him to come back and do what he's doing, it's been great."
In the fourth, it was Bryant who tied the 2004 franchise mark of 235 homers with a two-run shot to left off Marvel. That also gave Bryant 136 homers, tying him with Hall of Famer Ernie Banks for the most in the first five years of a Cubs career.
"That's pretty special," Bryant said of matching Banks' record. "A guy like that, I've got to pinch myself sometimes and be proud of what I've been able to accomplish."
Hoerner -- a mere 16 years younger than Zobrist -- kept the Cubs' offensive outpouring going with a three-run blast to the bleachers in left in the sixth as part of a three-hit, three-run performance. That shot off Clay Holmes broke the single-season club record, and then Victor Caratini pushed the figure to 237 homers with a leadoff pinch-hit blast in the seventh.
Chicago became the sixth team this season to establish a franchise record for home runs -- with more clubs on pace to join the list -- during a year in which Major League Baseball has seen more homers than in any previous year in history.
"There's a lot of people contributing to that number," Bryant said. "It's pretty cool to set records. There's a lot of talk about home runs and stuff like that, but we love it. I mean, home runs are fun. It's exciting. I think the fans want to see the ball go over the fence."
The Cubs have cleared the fence nine times over the past two games, scoring 31 runs along the way.
With only 14 games to go, that is certainly one way to take care of their own house, as Maddon phrased it.
"The approach, the working counts," Bryant said, "the sparks with Ben and Nico, and the stuff like that, it's been really kind of what we needed. I just hope we can kind of ride it all the way to the end of October."