Cubs break free on offense

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs marked their first blazing hot summer day with an offense to match, getting at least one afternoon to feel like a slugging, clutch-hitting team.

The Cubs managed to keep a cool breeze swirling for the crowd of 35,121 by circling the bases early and often. In their 14-6 victory over the Houston Astros, the Cubs recorded season highs in runs and hits (16), while tying season highs with two triples, nine extra-base hits and an eight-run winning margin.

Ryan Sweeney is starting to take advantage of consistent at-bats with a three-run home run during a six-RBI game, and Anthony Rizzo managed three hits, including a two-run home run, and four RBIs after cutting off the curly locks he had been growing since spring training.

Whether these new beginnings turn the Cubs into a consistent hitting machine remains to be seen with a nine-game road trip on the horizon to Milwaukee, Seattle and Oakland.

“Anytime you’re scoring 14 runs with 16 hits, it’s kind of contagious,” Sweeney said. “Everybody hit the ball great today. It was just fun to watch.”

Cubs hitters probably forgot what it looked like. They entered 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position over their past four games and 18-for-108 (.167) in that category over the past 15 games.

On Sunday, the Cubs were 6-for-11 with runners on second or third base.

Now comes the task of repeating the same performance, no easy job when it comes to facing both Kyle Lohse and Yovani Gallardo in two of the three games at Milwaukee, not to mention the matchups they will get against the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics.

Sweeney, who played four seasons in Oakland, figures to get more at-bats over the next month with the shoulder injury to David DeJesus. Rizzo, haircut aside, looks to have found his stroke again with two home runs in the series. Before Friday’s game, his last home run was May 18.

“It was nice to break it open a little bit,” said Darwin Barney, who had two hits Sunday and went 6-for-13 in the series. “We launched the ball a little bit for [starter Jeff] Samardzija. It was nice to have a cushion and allow him to go deep into the game. I think it was good for our offense and hopefully we can take it to Milwaukee.”

The Cubs entered play Sunday 12th in the National League in both team batting average (.230) and on-base percentage (.298) but can feel better about things during a day off Monday that was needed but not necessarily perfectly placed.

“It’s good for us to have an off day because we’ve played so many games in a row, but for a game like [Sunday’s] to have an off day the next day, you kind of wish you could play again tomorrow,” Sweeney said.

In that sense, the Cubs still have to work on their timing a little bit. It’s probably safe to assume, though, that Sweeney might not be worried about it too much.

“It was a career day for [Sweeney] and he’s going to sleep really well tonight,” Barney said. “It’s good to see. He’s had a lot of god days since he’s been here and plays a heck of a center field. It was a heck of a pickup for us and he’s a great guy in the clubhouse definitely.”