DETROIT -- The Cubs know they need to continue surging if they want to hold off the rest of the hungry National League postseason hopefuls down the stretch. This, of course, includes taking care of business against weaker teams like the ones Chicago will face during its seven-game road trip.
“A nice job by the offense all the way up and down. Guys getting on base, having really good at-bats, doing a nice job of just turning the lineup over, continuing to grind,” manager David Ross said. “Even when we gave it back, they fought back.
“Sometimes, you’ve got to claw teeth and nails, and that's a character win for the group. Phenomenal job up and down. A team win.”
Chicago, which was seven games out of a Wild Card berth just more than one month ago, has won 12 of 18 in August and now has a half-game lead over San Francisco (65-60) for the final spot and a one-game lead over Arizona (65-51), with Cincinnati (64-61) and Miami (64-62) also in contention.
With that in mind, here are a few things to keep an eye on during this seven-game road swing through Detroit (three games) and Pittsburgh (four).
Hey, you look familiar
Monday marked a homecoming of sorts for Jeimer Candelario, who played for Detroit from 2017-22 and was honored by a pregame video tribute and a warm ovation from the crowd of 20,560. The series opener was also Javier Báez’s first game against his original team, with which he won the 2016 World Series.
Candelario helped spark the Cubs’ three-run second inning by blasting a 101.8 mph grounder up the right side that Tigers first baseman Spencer Torkelson misplayed, allowing Candelario to reach safely and Dansby Swanson to score the Cubs’ first run. One out later, Candelario scored on Nick Madrigal’s first of two RBI doubles.
Báez, meanwhile, had a crucial two-run double off former Tiger Michael Fulmer during an eighth inning that saw Detroit rally to tie the score at 5-5 after being down by three entering the frame.
The Cubs went ahead for good in the ninth on Madrigal’s second RBI double, then added an insurance run. The Tigers threatened again in the ninth, but Báez was stranded in the on-deck circle when Mark Leiter Jr. induced a game-ending flyout to earn his fourth save.
“There's so much talent no matter what team there is out there,” Madrigal said. “That's kind of the special thing about baseball. Anyone can beat anyone on any day, so we definitely have to show up and play our game.”
Assad rolls on
Javier Assad continued to show how much he’s grown since a rocky start to the season, bulldogging his way through a jam in the fourth and fifth frames to emerge from his 5 1/3-inning outing with minimal damage. The 26-year-old righty -- whose 1.62 ERA since June 27 is the best in MLB among pitchers with at least 40 innings -- retired nine consecutive Tigers at one point and allowed just five hits.
“The offense was great,” said Assad, whom the Cubs spotted to a 3-0 lead after two innings. “Getting the advantage, the lead, was huge. It definitely helped me become more aggressive and just overall grew the confidence.”
The lone runs he allowed came via solo homers on back-to-back pitches in the sixth.
Speaking of homers
Seiya Suzuki continued his recent tear at the plate, blasting home run No. 13 on a 1-0 offering from Tigers starter Alex Faedo in the fourth inning to mark his second long ball in as many games.
Chicago’s right fielder, who finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored, said on Sunday that much of his recent success is due in part to a retooled approach that has led to him being more aggressive at the plate.
His Statcast-projected 403-footer gave the Cubs a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning.
“Sei has been swinging the bat really well,” Ross said. “It's nice to have him swinging the bat that well. He's playing phenomenal. A big part of us, especially the bottom of that order, [so we] just keep turning it over.”