Cubs' sweep a sign of things to come?

CHICAGO -- There are no statements to be made for last-place teams, but there is progress to be made. If any series this year can show the Chicago Cubs are moving in the right direction it might be their latest -- a three-game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles.

Yes, youngsters like Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez helped them to victories with key home runs over the weekend, but make no mistake -- the Cubs had a winning series (and have a winning month) thanks to their pitching. It’s been lights-out.

“Pitching always sets the tone,” manager Rick Renteria said after Sunday’s 2-1 win. “All the guys have been doing a great job attacking the hitters. The game plan they go into with and execution is very important. And we’ve been playing really good defense.”

The Cubs' team ERA in August is 3.07 after Tsuyoshi Wada and three relievers held the Orioles to just one hit in the series finale. That’s second best in the National League. That’s right, the Cubs are pitching better right now than every NL contender save the Washington Nationals. And remember, Edwin Jackson just went on the disabled list. Most of the good work has been done by Wada, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta.

As well as a bullpen that’s been outstanding.

“They gained ground by understanding what they needed to do next time if it didn’t work out (last time),” Renteria said of his young pitchers this season.

The latest find has been Wada. He’s deceptive and pinpoint with his control. And he’s been every bit as good as Hendricks since they were both called up from the minors around the same time. His 2.56 major league ERA stands out after a dominant Triple-A season.

“The board might read 89-90 mph but he’s able to get it by hitters,” Renteria said of the late life to Wada’s fastball. “I will simply say he’s pitching very, very well. There’s decisions that have to be made (for next year). He’s putting himself in a very good position.”

And the Cubs are winning games. After going 8-20 last August they’re 13-10 this year. That record, compiled in these games against contenders, is the foundation the Cubs hope to build off of for next year and beyond. Everyone wants to know if a leap in the standings can occur in 2015. A series sweep against a likely playoff team gives hope. And maybe, just maybe there is more pitching here than first thought.

“All in all, a really clean series,” Renteria said.

And a winning one.