PHILADELPHIA -- Every so often the Chicago Cubs get one of those games in which the rookies rule the day. Actually, it happens more often than not, as their slew of young players continues to perform at a high level on their march to the postseason.
In Game 1 of their doubleheader sweep of the Philadelphia Phillies on Friday, the veteran Jake Arrieta took care of business in a 5-1 victory. In Game 2, youth was served as Kyle Schwarber hit two home runs, Kris Byrant went deep and had three hits, and pitcher Kyle Hendricks lasted into the seventh inning for the first time in five weeks. It added up to another victory and a step closer to the playoffs.
"I think everyone is thinking about October," Hendricks said after winning for the seventh time this year. "We're that close. We can smell it, pretty much."
They can smell it like Bryant can smell an RBI opportunity. He has 90 on the season after going 5-for-10 with four knocked in over the two games. His season total is the most ever for a rookie in a Cubs uniform.
"It's something cool given the history of the team and looking back on that and how many people have played on this team," Bryant said. "It's a huge honor and gives me an extra boost of confidence."
To put Bryant's clutch season in perspective, MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo is hitting .319 with a .432 on-base percentage with men in scoring position this season. Bryant is .313/.436. Remember, one is a rookie and the other is a veteran.
"Maybe they're more likely to make a mistake in the stretch," Bryant explained of his RBI success. "Last year, I struggled in the minor leagues with guys on base. That hit me hard."
Then there's Schwarber. Back from a rib cage injury, he struck out four times on Wednesday in St. Louis. He didn't waste time making up for a bad night, hitting the first two pitches he saw for home runs and becoming the first Cub to accomplish that feat since Derek Lee in 2009.
"More comfortable in the box," Schwarber said. "Just settle things down."
His first long ball traveled 450 feet, according to ESPN Stats & Information, while his second one produced the most entertaining moment of the game: Schwarber fell down rounding first base as the ball left the yard.
"I slipped off the bag," Schwarber explained. "I went to round it and my foot just came off."
Did he get grief from friends and teammates?
"I got a lot," he said shaking his head at his locker. "A lot of, 'Watch out for the snipers.'
"I tried to do the safe sign, but I had to get up and run."
Schwarber got the last laugh and has 15 home runs now, including three multihomer games. That's the most for a Cub in his first 51 games played since 1914, according to Stats Inc. As a group, Cubs rookies set a franchise record for home runs in reaching 60 for the season Friday.
More than the stats and historical accomplishments, the Cubs are simply trying to prepare themselves for bigger moments to come. It's not easy to find the adrenaline when there are 500 people in the stands, as there seemed to be for Game 1.
"It feels like it's always a playoff game," Schwarber said of this month. "Even though the atmosphere in the first game didn't feel like it. We're trying to get the wild card at our place or catch the Cardinals."
The Cubs think these important September games will prepare them for October. It's hard not to buy in when you watch them play and hear them talk. They listen, learn and adjust. They also work.
"I watched Schwarber looking at video," Maddon said. "He was ready for tonight's game."
As for Bryant, he'll take home the rookie of the year award just like he usually takes home any award he's been up for since dominating in college. And he might just reach one more milestone in his first season. He has 22 games to do it.
"Legitimate shot at 100 [RBIs]," Maddon said. "That would be kind of neat to get that."