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Cubs surge to top of NL at All-Star break thanks to clubhouse culture

All is right in Cubs Nation as the 2016 world champions used the final week before the All-Star break to take command of their division, and the National League, and now find themselves on top of both after a weekend sweep of the San Diego Padres.

“I think in some regards, people look at us in a less than [favorable light] only because of what the Red Sox and Yankees have done,” Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon said before the team’s 7-4 win on Sunday.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china “Otherwise we’ve done pretty nice work.”

It should come as no surprise they’re in the playoff hunt again but the journey to the top of the standings — at the symbolic halfway point of the season — didn’t go exactly as scripted.

The Cubs poured a huge amount of resources into their starting staff over the past 12 months but other than Sunday’s winner, Jon Lester, the rotation was the weak link in the first half — if the sixth-ranked ERA in the league can be considered a weak link. Instead, a maturing offense and deeper-than-thought bullpen carried the load.10

In fact, their offense might be the envy of the NL before it’s all said and done. They rank first in every major category except for home runs — but they think that’s a good thing. It means they’re getting the job done in other ways — more entertaining ways, in fact. Ways that could come in handy in October.

“In general, MLB is looking for this,” Maddon stated emphatically. “They’re looking for more action in the game. They’re looking for the ball to be put in play. You can have it both ways. You can.”

Maddon is referencing perhaps the most important statistic for his team in the first half, though it might be the least sexy. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Cubs rank first in opposite-field hits in the NL and second in baseball after ending last season ranked 19th in that category. In their fourth season together as position players, they’ve finally understood the message Maddon has been preaching.nfl cheap nike jerseys

“The best way I can describe it is, for the last several years, every hitter has been trying to hit every pitch they see for a home run, which is impossible,” he said. “Thus you get this big swing-and-miss. Pitchers throw homers.”

That last line has resonated with his hitters the most. It’s usually the opposing pitcher who determines the outcome of the at-bat. If he gives a player a cookie to hit, then it’s his job to put it in the seats, but if the pitch hits the corner then putting the ball into the opposite field — or laying off a borderline one — is the winning move. The Cubs finally get it.