- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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MILWAUKEE -- The Chicago Cubs finally did it. After several tries they reached the magic number: 10 games over .500. And thanks in part to a sweep of the lowly Milwaukee Brewers the Cubs have caught the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card. The two teams will face off later this week, but right now the Cubs are savoring their high water mark of the season.
"It's great what we just did here," manager Joe Maddon said after the 4-3 win on Sunday. "We got the Philadelphia Phillies at the wrong moment. We caught Milwaukee at the right time while they're trying to make adjustments."
The Phillies have been on fire since the All-Star break, so maybe that sweep last weekend wasn't as bad as it looked. On the other hand the Brewers are a team in transition -- they made several trades right at the deadline on Friday. Those moves weakened an already weak offense and the Cubs took control. They gave up eight runs in four games and never trailed by worse than a 2-0 score.
"I think this was a series we needed to take advantage of," outfielder Chris Coghlan said. "We did."
First baseman Anthony Rizzo led the way with four home runs while the rookies are starting to find a second wind. Yes, Kris Bryant has been slumping, but he finds ways to contribute. He had a run-scoring single before having to leave Sunday's game after a hard slide into second base. He had no business being safe, as the ball got cut-off behind the mound just a few feet from the bag. But it was determined after a video review he made it in there safely, a reward for his all-out hustle.
"Every time he makes a great base-running play I make sure to tell him," Maddon said. "He's one of the best base runners in the National League right now. He is. He understands playing the complete game."
Then there is Kyle Schwarber, who continues to get praise for his catching as well as his hitting.
"Kyle did a great job," starter Clayton Richard said.
That unsolicited praise didn't come in Schwarber's first few games behind the plate but it's coming now. And his offense is only getting better. A signature 11-pitch at-bat on Saturday frustrated easy-to-frustrate former Cub Matt Garza, who melted afterward. That at-bat was the difference in the game. Schwarber homered later for good measure.
Addison Russell is performing after changing his stance to be more upright and adding a leg kick. His results have pointed up since the All-Star break. Russell's hitting .286 with a .333 on-base percentage and two home runs, including a mammoth 423-foot shot Sunday.
"I'm driving the ball more now," Russell said over the weekend.
His defense at second has been nothing short of fantastic for the better part of three months. Fellow rookie teammate Jorge Soler leapt to keep a home run ball from leaving the yard on Saturday and is more consistent at the plate than he was earlier this season. Everyone contributed to the sweep -- even newcomer Tommy Hunter, who threw bullets in earning the save on Saturday. Hector Rondon survived a ninth-inning scare on Sunday to close out the sweep.
All of it adds up to a team flying high as they head into two critical series in Pittsburgh then against San Francisco in Wrigley.
"I know we have Pittsburgh next," Coghlan said. "For me, we just have to keep this one day at a time. Joe has been around a long time. He can look at 10 games over but I don't look at that way."
On Sunday, a journeyman pitcher (Richard), four rookies and a Rule 5 pick (Hector Rondon) serving as closer helped the Cubs to their first four-game series sweep of the Brewers since 2008. So what's next?
"It's great to get to 10-plus," Maddon said of his team's record. "The [next] goal is to get to 15."
With just 58 games to go, the playoffs are within sight.