Cubs catching fire

Cubs fans hope first baseman Anthony Rizzo will one day fuel the North Siders to a World Series title. While that’s unlikely to happen this season, it’s difficult to ignore the sizzling run the team has been on since Manager Dale Sveum inserted the prized prospect into the third spot of the batting order on June 26. The Cubs are 11-4 since Rizzo’s call-up, having won four straight three-game series and splitting a four-game set with the equally hot Braves.

During this stretch, the pitching has been as good as it’s been all season. Couple that with some timely hitting, and things are starting to click. Vine Line examined why the last 15 games have been such a successful stretch for the Cubs.

Offensive Resurgence: Alfonso Soriano is known as a streaky hitter, but he seems to be finding a more consistent groove. The veteran has hit .286 with three homers, three doubles and nine RBI since Rizzo’s call-up. Geovany Soto, who currently owns only a .189 batting average, has hit .257 with a homer and a pair of doubles in that time. And if you look at the team’s averages over the last month, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker’s numbers continuously appear at the top. They might not play every day, but they have definitely made the most of their opportunities. Johnson is hitting .440 in his last 25 at-bats, while Baker has hit .318 during the hot stretch.

Starting Pitching: Though Jeff Samardzija has struggled, the rest of the rotation has been the real difference maker for the team during the hot streak. Ryan Dempster, Matt Garza, Paul Maholm and Travis Wood have gone a combined 9-1 over the last 15 games. In 62.1 innings, the quartet has surrendered a combined 11 earned runs (five of them coming in Garza’s July 5 start vs. Atlanta) and recorded a 1.59 ERA. The group has 46 strikeouts, or 6.67 K/9, while keeping the walks to a minimum (2.46 BB/9).

Anthony Rizzo: It all started with the phenom’s call-up. In his first game, he went 2-for-4 with a double and what would prove to be the game-winning RBI. He’s hit .356/.377/.627 in 61 plate appearances since. His altered stance has rewarded him with four homers, 10 RBI and just six strikeouts. While he’s crushing righties to the tune of a .429 average, the lefty is also hitting a respectable .250 against southpaws with a pair of homers. Many feared Rizzo woudln’t be able to hit lefties at the major league level. To say that Rizzo is carrying the team isn’t totally accurate, but he might very well have been the spark the Cubs were looking for.

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