CHICAGO -- In the last three seasons, the Cubs boast the best second-half winning percentage in baseball, and they continued that trend on Thursday night, rallying for a 9-6 victory over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.Ian Happ smacked a two-run homer to highlight a five-run fifth inning and Jason Heyward
CHICAGO -- In the last three seasons, the Cubs boast the best second-half winning percentage in baseball, and they continued that trend on Thursday night, rallying for a 9-6 victory over the Cardinals at Wrigley Field.
Ian Happ smacked a two-run homer to highlight a five-run fifth inning and Jason Heyward hit a pair of RBI singles as the Cubs flew the 'W' in their first game after the All-Star break.
What is it about their second-half surge?
"The thing I want to believe is that we avoid fatigue early," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That would be the best way to describe it. That's been intentional, from my side of things. Is that the reason? I don't know. That's always been the sheet of music I've worked from, to not beat up guys early."
The Cubs now have 31 come-from-behind wins, the most in the Major Leagues (the Red Sox are second with 28). The Cubs totaled 45 such wins last season.
"We've had a lot of them," Happ said of the Cubs' ability to rally. "They're definitely fun and enjoyable for the fans, but we'd enjoy a few games where we start up and finish up. It's just a good baseball team. There's a lot of ways to score runs, and we do a good job of staying with it."
It was only Chicago's fourth win in nine games against St. Louis this season. Thursday was the first of eight games in 11 days between the National League Central rivals.
"We had good at-bats all the way around, good baserunning, good defense," Heyward said. "Our pitching, outstanding. We're playing a team who I feel can swing the bats well. It's good for us to play a complete baseball game."
Carlos Martinez had only allowed two hits heading into the fifth when the Cubs mounted their latest comeback. Victor Caratini led off with a single and reached second on a throwing error by shortstop Paul DeJong. One out later, Anthony Rizzo hit an RBI double, moved up on Kristopher Bryant's single and scored the tying run on Heyward's second RBI single of the game.
Benjamin Zobrist followed with a go-ahead sacrifice fly to center field and Happ then launched his 12th homer of the season, a two-run shot that gave the Cubs a 6-3 lead.
"It's unbelievable," Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks said. "Those guys kept putting together great at-bat after great at-bat and picked up where they left off [in the first half]."
The Cubs, who have the best record in the NL, have won 13 of their last 16 games, averaging eight runs per game in those wins. They have a three-game lead on the Brewers in the NL Central, with the Cardinals in third place, 8 1/2 games back.
Hendricks did not get a decision. He ran up his pitch count quickly, needing 27 pitches to get through the first and finished with a season-high 113 over 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander allowed three runs on nine hits, including Tommy Pham's solo homer with one out in the second.
The Cubs' offense has been the key. Maddon knows they'll need good pitching to get far.
"I still have a lot of faith," Maddon said of the Cubs' rotation. "Yu [Darvish] is hurt, but otherwise they're not, and that's where I take a lot of solace and encouragement -- that they're not injured. They definitely haven't thrown too many innings. I still think there's a lot to look forward to."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
With closer Brandon Morrow going on the disabled list before the game, the Cubs' plan for save situations is to mix and match. On Thursday, it was Pedro Strop's turn. He entered with one on and two outs in the ninth and got William Fowler to ground out to second base for his third save in five opportunities.
The Cubs are 26-24 when their opponent scores first. Only the Red Sox (23-25) are even within two games of .500 when giving up the first run of a game.
HE SAID IT
"It's hard to take him out of there." -- Maddon, on having Rizzo lead off. The first baseman now is 8-for-16 with five doubles, three runs and three RBIs at the top of the lineup.
All-Star Jonathan Lester will make his first start of the second half when the Cubs face the Cardinals on Friday at 1:20 p.m. CT. He is tied with Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer for the most wins in the National League (12) and has the fourth-best ERA (2.58). There's no place like Wrigley Field for the lefty, who is 5-1 with a 1.98 ERA in nine home starts. He's 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three outings vs. the Cardinals.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat.