Cubs show 'the best version of us' in romp over Cards

July 23rd, 2023

CHICAGO -- It felt like the figurative roof at Wrigley Field would have come off if Cody Bellinger hit a grand slam in the third inning Sunday.

The red-hot Bellinger, who two innings prior hit a two-run homer, settled for a sac fly and a nice ovation. It kick-started a five-run inning for the Cubs, who completed a winning homestand with a 7-2 victory and series win over the rival Cardinals.

“That was a huge series for us, especially to drop the first one and then come back and win three,” said first baseman Trey Mancini, who tallied an RBI double in the third. “Especially in a very important time of year right now, with the [Trade] Deadline coming up. 

“As a player, obviously, you don't want to see any of your teammates get traded and hope to keep everybody together. Hopefully, we can keep playing well.”

Every game is important for the Cubs right now, with the Deadline a little over a week away. Team president Jed Hoyer noted two key objectives coming out of the All-Star break: make up ground on a .500 record and in the NL Central.

After starting their three-team, 10-game homestand after the break 1-3, the Cubs have won five of their last six games. At 48-51, they’re three games under .500 for the first time in nearly a month. (They fell to 37-40 on June 27, losing their first game after the London Series to the Phillies.)

They’re also 6 1/2 games back of the first-place Brewers in the NL Central -- the closest they’ve been in three weeks.

“I think you're just starting to see the best version of us, to some extent,” manager David Ross said before Sunday’s game. “The offense has picked it up as of late, picking up the pitching, which I thought carried us early in the season. The bullpen has figured some things out at times. We're playing all right.”

Besides Bellinger’s three-RBI day, Dansby Swanson -- in his second game back from the injured list -- went 2-for-4 with an RBI. Yan Gomes made it 6-0 with a two-run double in the third, and Mancini then drove him in with his double.

Jameson Taillon, who struggled deeply in the first half, delivered his third straight good outing, allowing a run and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. Ross pushed the big right-hander, who threw 109 pitches, after a taxing few days for his bullpen. Michael Rucker, Anthony Kay and Javier Assad covered the final 3 1/3 innings.

Taillon, who’s allowed three or fewer earned runs in three straight starts (a first for him this season), echoed Ross’ pregame assessment of the Cubs’ play of late.

“I feel like for a while I wasn't doing my job there,” said Taillon, who lowered his ERA 5.75 in his 17th start. “So, it's nice to at least finally feel like I can start keeping the team in games and put us in a good position to win. 

“We got Dansby back, that's big. Belli was on the IL for a while. We got him back. We've had a few guys on the IL that are back and healthy and stuff, so I feel like that's important. … It's definitely a good vibe.”

Going further back, the Cubs, after a rough stretch in May, are 22-15 since June 9.

Taillon, when asked whether getting to .500 is a litmus test for the players to give the front office something to think about, said the focus is on playing good baseball -- acknowledging his cliché.

Up next is a pair of games against the crosstown White Sox and four more with the Cardinals, down in St. Louis.

“We can obviously put a lot of weight into the games over the next week, but we've also had months to show who we are,” Taillon said. “Obviously, you don't want to overcook these games. But I do feel like we're playing well right now, and I do feel like we're clicking in a lot of different areas. 

“I do feel like we’re playing really well, but also, I just don't really pay attention to that. I can genuinely say that.”

At the very least, the more the Cubs win, the better chance they have to position themselves to make a run the final two months. And perhaps this stretch is a sign of what this team could do.

“I see the talent,” Bellinger said. “I’ve been around some good teams, been on some good teams. We’ve got the right guys in this clubhouse. I believe it. We all know that.”