Back-to-back series sweeps would have been nice, but the Cubs will have to settle for a 5-1 mark on their recent homestand. Chicago took all three games of the series against the Pirates before taking two of three from one of baseball's best teams in the Orioles.
Now, David Ross and the Cubs will battle the Pirates again, this time at PNC Park, for three games before packing their bags and heading across the pond for this weekend's London Series against the Cardinals. The matchup against Pittsburgh gives Chicago the chance to move into third-place in the NL Central - but the bigger problem is the play of one of the teams they're chasing: the suddenly surging Cincinnati Reds.
Reds are playing spoiler as Cubs try to claw their way back
Rookie sensation Elly De La Cruz has the Reds flying high, winners of eight straight - including a weekend sweep of the reigning World Series champs. In just 11 games, he swiped six bags, has a 110 OPS+ and four extra-base hits. His speed, and general set of tools, has made him must-see baseball and Cincinnati has capitalized.
At 37-35, the Reds are just a half-game out of first - and their surge aligned almost perfectly with the Cubs' 5-1 homestand. Between that and the fact first-place Milwaukee has sorted itself out and won three straight, Chicago enters the matchup with the Pirates still four games out of first and 5 1/2 out of a wild card spot.
According to Fangraphs, the Cubs nearly doubled their chances of making the postseason over the last week while the Reds more than doubled their odds - although Milwaukee's 56.7 percent trumps the rest of the division by a wide margin.
The Cubs and Reds don't go head-to-head until 7/31 - and in an NL Central that looks like simply treading water might net you a division crown - you can bet we have plenty more of this scoreboard watching ahead of us.
Chicago found momentum at Wrigley last week - but now, they're off to Pittsburgh and London before returning home on June 27. They'll need to overcome their road woes if they want to keep up with a Reds team on the rise that shows no signs of cooling down anytime soon.