The cliche works: Pitching and timely hitting (or walking) have Cubs on verge of a sweep

CHICAGO -- Outfielder Chris Coghlan said it best, after earning a game-winning walk with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of the Chicago Cubs' dramatic 2-1 win over the New York Mets on Wednesday night.

"We're a totally different team than last year," he stated. "This team is just different. I know you guys like to compare but you can't compare to last year or the years before because we have so much more talent, we have different chemistry, we have different options. It's exciting to be part of that."

The different options might be the best thing about the Cubs' offense right now -- and the biggest change from the past. And the fact that it can produce late in games, that's a big change from a year ago as well. Wednesday was already the Cubs' third walk-off win of the season and they've won several others in their final road at-bats.

"There's a great vibe in the dugout and the clubhouse," manager Joe Maddon said.

Starter Jason Hammel added: "Someone will get it done. That's what everyone believes."

Sometimes baseball can feel like the most individual of sports, but a lineup that just keeps things moving can feed off itself. The Cubs are truly handing the baton to the next guy. If he doesn't come through, someone else will. Coghlan picked up Jorge Soler, who had struck out right before the winning walk.

"You have to control your emotions," Coghlan said. "You want to be the guy. That's the biggest deal."

As much as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have been those guys, the Cubs were able to spread it around a little on Wednesday. Starlin Castro had a big hit in the final rally and Miguel Montero was on-base three times. Then there was Dexter Fowler. He looked awful at the plate until his final at-bat, a game=tying single in the eighth inning.

"If you just stay focused on your grind, you'll be fine," Coghlan said.


Though the drama on Wednesday surrounded single runs scored in the eighth and ninth innings to win, the story of the week so far is the Cubs' pitching staff. Up against one of the best young rotations in the game, veterans Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel reminded everyone they can throw the ball a little bit as well.

"If you can't have starting pitching and you wear down your bullpen early in the season they're not going to be ready late in the year when the games really count," Hammel said.

As of just a few days ago that's exactly what the Cubs' starting staff was doing: Wearing down its bullpen. But maybe knowing the hottest rotation and pitching staff in the league was coming to town raised their game. Or maybe it was just time.

"Gosh, he's been really, really good," Maddon said of Hammel. "You have to pitch better than good pitching. And we did."

They've done it every night this week and that includes the bullpen. A win Thursday and the Cubs will have earned a signature series sweep. Their first of the season of more than two games.

"This whole series was well pitched," Hammel said. "The whole way through."

Hammel has been great this season, especially his control. He lamented a long first inning in which he issued his lone free pass of the night, to the game's second hitter, but he didn't give up a run despite a bases-loaded situation. And then he started to roll through the Mets. He faced the minimum amount of batters over the next four innings and completed eight for the second time this season. He gave up five hits and struck out six.

"Our guy was fabulous," Maddon said.

And that came one night after Arrieta threw about the same in going eight innings, and two nights after Lester won his third in a row. The Cubs are playing with house money after taking the first three games of the series against a first-place team who featured three highly touted young pitchers.

"I was actually the first guy to blink, but we battled back," Hammel said.

No, this is nothing like last year's team. Or any in recent memory.