Cubs find happy place -- but July looms

Starlin Castro launched his 11th home run of the season Friday after hitting just 10 in 2013. Brian Kersey/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is well aware of what the month of July signifies for his team, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to enjoy the run the Cubs have been on lately. They’re 18-13 over their past 31 games, the best mark in the National League over that time frame.

“It’s definitely nice,” Rizzo said after the Cubs beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-3 on Friday. “It’s the nicest I’ve felt about this team since I’ve been here. Everyone kind of expects to win games now. We always do, but everyone is coming in with that extra swagger.”

That’s a bold statement considering the Cubs are still nine games under .500, at 31-40, after Friday’s victory. But there is a different feeling to this team after 71 games than last season at this time, when they were 29-42.

The bullpen isn’t blowing games, the team's stars are playing like stars and the Cubs have closed the gap in close affairs. The offense overall still has issues, but the starting staff has been good, especially at the top of the rotation.

“We definitely have a lot of upside,” said Edwin Jackson, Friday's winning pitcher. “This last month or so we’ve been playing good baseball. Showing the things we’re capable of doing.”

But we all know it’s going to come crashing down for them. Even a run toward .500 -- which last year’s team also made -- won’t stop the inevitable. The Cubs are sellers again. Maybe for the last time in Theo Epstein’s regime, maybe not. Either way, they’re selling this July. There is no question about that.

“We’re not there yet so I don’t know,” Rizzo said about dealing with the notion. “It gets everyone down, but you just deal with it. We all want to keep playing better so it’s harder for them to break everyone up, but the reality of it is we’re nine or 10 games under .500. We have to get to .500 first before we talk about that.”

Until then the Cubs will put their heads down and try not to think about what will happen. It’s easy for players because they always have another game to focus on, another batting practice to take, another day to mark off the calendar. But each one of those days inches them closer to the July 31 trade deadline. And that’s when the team will be ripped apart again.

“You can’t worry about what you can’t control,” Jackson said simply.

It might be better for them not to think about it altogether.