CHICAGO – Whatever bug is going around the Cubs’ clubhouse, manager Joe Maddon and the team might want to hope it continues.
After their 3-6 road trip, the Cubs got well against the Milwaukee Brewers over the weekend, finishing a three-game sweep with a 7-2 victory Sunday at Wrigley Field.
The victory allowed the Cubs to keep their position atop the National League Central with a record of 60-51 (39-18 at home).
Carrying them Sunday were a couple of resurgent characters: starting pitcher Yu Darvish (4-5) and leadoff man Jason Heyward.
Pitching while sick, Darvish gutted out five innings of five-hit, one-run ball while walking no one and striking out eight. Darvish has a 2.17 ERA in his past five starts, with 38 strikeouts and two walks.
“He is pitching as well as anybody in the league right now,” Maddon said.
Darvish gave up a first-inning home run to Christian Yelich, who has 37 for the season.
Heyward quickly tied the game in the bottom half, homering on the first pitch he saw from Adrian Houser. It was Heyward’s 17th of the season. He tripled to drive in a run in the second and had an RBI forceout in the sixth.
“We’re all just trying to make sure we’re doing whatever we can, however that fits in, whatever that looks like,” Heyward said. “We want to try to get it done because we know what we want to do.”
Darvish had an excused absence from postgame media duties because of his illness, so Heyward gave his take on what he’s seeing playing behind the pitcher.
“He’s nasty. He’s nasty, period,” Heyward said. “I’ve always felt that way about Yu. Right now, I feel like he’s just kind of settled in and relaxed and not trying to do too much with his stuff.
“He’s letting it work. He’s throwing strikes and getting ahead. He’s using everything he has and not so focused on trying to throw strikes.
“With his kind of stuff, just be around the zone. Obviously, he’s going out there and not trying to walk guys and be aggressive, and that plays into his advantage because he has enough pitches where he can go up there and be around the plate. One time it’s in the zone, one time it’s not. It’s huge.”
The Cubs piled up 14 hits Sunday, getting a solo homer from Kyle Schwarber, his 25th, in the fifth. With Darvish gone after five innings, the Cubs got an inning from Derek Holland and three from Tyler Chatwood, who earned his second save of the season.
Maddon had as high of praise for Heyward as he did for Darvish.
“Really good at-bats,” Maddon said. “You can see. You watch body language. You watch people, not just baseball players, but he’s very confident right now.
“He’s made adjustments, I think. The thing I give him credit for is he’s just the proverbial ‘grinding it out.’ He’s not given up. He’s gone through some tough moments, and he has stayed with it.
“Right now he’s leading us. He’s absolutely leading the offense right now. Even what he’s done on defense, he’s very much take charge out there. He’s always interacting with people. Give the guy a lot of credit.”