Welcome to the new normal in Chicago baseball.
As the Cubs and White Sox met for their second series of rapidly diverging seasons, Sox general manager Rick Hahn flashed a smile when some wise guy referred to him as the “general manager of the second-hottest baseball team in town.”
It’s still technically true. The gap is just a little bigger after the Cubs’ 6-5 victory Friday afternoon.
The Sox (54-59) came into the game on a modest, three-game win streak after they swept the Angels and reversed an early-August slide to improve their record to four games under .500.
But their win streak ended at the hands of the Cubs, the only thing in Chicago hotter than your Jay Cutler takes.
The Cubs (66-48) won their eighth straight and 14th of 15, thanks to two home runs from Chris “Chase Utley Who?” Coghlan. The win evened the city series at two games apiece.
Because of tiebreaker rules, the Cubs need a sweep at the Cell this weekend to win back the trophy formerly known as the BP Cup. But the Cubs are playing for something a little bigger than that forgotten chalice this season, something that didn’t seem possible a few years back.
A sweep would put them at 20 games over .500, a high-water mark for the rebuilt team. Good luck against Chris Sale on Sunday, but it's feasible.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon can spin that one-game-at-a-time stuff all he wants, but a couple Cubs were watching the Pirates-New York Mets game in the clubhouse Friday and exhorting a Met not to pop up with men on base.
The Cubs continue to rake, with Kyle Schwarber hitting second in the lineup, and though the rookie didn’t get a hit Friday, he scored Dexter Fowler with a sacrifice fly in the first and walked and scored on Coghlan’s three-run homer in the third.
Coghlan added a solo shot in the fifth, followed by Anthony Rizzo's 23rd homer, which gave the Cubs their final margin. Pedro Strop issued a double fist-pump when he got out of a jam in the eighth by striking out Adam Eaton and Tyler Saladino. He was aiming that pump at Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who gave him a finger wag when Strop kept looking at him at second base.
Unlike with previous Cubs-Sox fireworks, nothing came of it.
"I was a little pumped after that third out," Strop said. "When he gave me that 'No, no, no,' I felt like he was showing me up. I was aware of the situation. ... That's what got me a little pumped up, but nothing personal."
Man, do we miss A.J. Pierzynski.
The big change Friday was Maddon's adding Starlin Castro as the starting second baseman. It was Castro's first start since Aug. 6 -- and first start at the position. Castro fielded his new position well and collected three ground-ball singles.
Addison Russell usurped Castro's shortstop role Aug. 7, and the Cubs haven’t lost since. The Cubs are also unbeatable when Coghlan hits third -- they're 12-0, in fact.
“No, no, it’s definitely not me,” Coghlan said. “You guys can look at the stat column and see that.”
He’s right. Coghlan, who moved to second base when Schwarber moved to left field and Russell to shortstop, is hitting .220 (9-for-41) in the 3-hole this season, with a double and those two homers.
But hey, whatever works. When you’re in a win stretch like the Cubs', it’s all about belief.
“I think right now we feel like we’re going to win every game,” Coghlan said. “And I think that’s the reason why we’re winning a lot of them. You can say, ‘I hope we win the game,' but to actually believe it and be convicted in it is totally different than just saying, ‘Yeah, I hope we go win today.’”
Is "being convicted" enough to sway a game? Who knows? What it comes down to is Samardzija, who gave up six runs on nine hits and two walks in six innings Friday, threw a few fat pitches, and his former team made him pay. That's how it works for good teams and not-so-good teams.
Samardzija has given up 22 runs in 15⅓ innings over three starts this month. Maybe the White Sox shouldn't have told him about the trade deadline.
“[August] hasn’t been too kind to me, that’s for sure,” Samardzija said.
His 4.78 ERA is indicative of a bad walk year for his hometown team. The Cubs are having that effect on pitchers. Samardzija threw 31 pitches in the first inning against a lineup that makes starters work early, then gave up the three homers in very warm, hitter-friendly conditions.
The Sox hit Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks too, punctuated by Eaton's three-run homer in the fourth. Each team took the lead twice, but the Cubs grabbed the third and final one. It’s not an accident that they are 27-17 in one-run games.
The Sox are 22-22 in one-run games and 2-5 this month. That’s the difference between one team at the front of the pack in the playoff race and the other watching the race pull away.
“Look at them -- they fought,” Coghlan said. “It was a well-fought game. I mean, you have Samardzija out there. He’s a bulldog. I respect him as a pitcher to be able to fight. But it was blow, blow, blow, back and forth, and for us to be able to come back makes for a good win.”
Will the Cubs lose again? Probably. But right now, they just don't see how it could happen.