Chicago Cubs: Can they keep up this torrid pace?
But something else was happening. The Cubs had not faced the Mets since they split a four-game series in Chicago at the beginning of May. No one had paid much attention to the Mets who seemed stuck in third place behind the Cubs and Pirates. But quietly the Mets had overtaken the slumping Pirates for second place in the NL East.
The Cubs at the end of June were 50-27 and had amassed a run differential of +122. The Pirates had fallen to .500, the Mets were 7 1/2 games back, right where the Pirates were at the end of May. Ron Santo was clicking his heels, 38-year-old Ernie Banks was looking like he could play two all season long. Santo, Banks, Williams and Jim Hickman had all hit twenty-plus HRs a piece, and Hundley wasn’t far behind at 18. All seemed well indeed.
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The first signs of trouble
The first inkling that trouble was on the horizon came in July. After powering out 161 runs in June, the offense went quiet. And Cubs pitching, while solid, couldn’t reprise their early season stinginess. The month got off to a terrible start, with Cubs losing back-to-back series against the Cardinals and Mets three games to four. They rebounded against the Phillies then lost another three-game series to Mets. The division lead stood four games. A disquieting unease crept into my otherwise buoyant hopes.
But the Cubs fought back at the end of July to regain a 6 1/2 game division edge. The feared Pirates continued to fall as the Cardinals surged into third place. Just two months to go. August loomed.
But August calmed the fears. The Cubs reprised their season start by winning nine of the first eleven games that month. The division lead spiked to nine games and the Cubs stood at 30 games over .500, 73-43. A dismal 15-14 July was in the rearview mirror now. They would hold that high point for five days.
On August 18, they sat at, 77-45, 33 games over .500 and eight games up in the division.