There's no doubt the Cubs have been a lot more fun and a lot more interesting to watch over the past few weeks.
After a third straight brutal start to the season -- all of them marked by bullpen blowups and a lack of timely hitting -- they've put together a nice little run.
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They were slowed Saturday in a 5-3 loss to the Pirates at Wrigley Field, where rain delayed the start of the game two hours.
The Cubs are 11-8 in June after winning 11 in all of May and nine in March-April.
"I don't know if there's any secret formula," manager Rick Renteria said. "Just come out every day and hopefully have the same approach in the way they prepare, the way they get ready for the game. Maybe that's the way we do it is that they have a consistent routine."
The Cubs' starting rotation has been pretty solid most of the season, and we'll see what happens if Jeff Samardzija and/or Jason Hammel get traded in the coming weeks. After another closer crisis with the since-released Jose Veras, the bullpen has settled down with Hector Rondon closing and some promising youngsters throwing heat.
Although the offense is still on-base challenged and the outfield has not produced as hoped, the Cubs are getting bounce-back years from shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo and better-than-expected work from Luis Valbuena.
"I do think that we're swinging the bats better, for sure," Renteria said. "I think we're getting some more clutch hitting. We're getting some timely hitting. I do think our pitching has been there; our bullpen has been solidified a little bit more in the last four or five weeks with some of the changes that have occurred.
"I think all in all, in watching them on a daily basis, they've maintained a pretty even-keeled approach. I trust that they're going to continue to improve, and they have. We always talk that there are peaks and valleys, and right now, we're on a peak, but (we hope) it's going to maintain for a little while."
Starting pitcher Travis Wood looked good early in Saturday's game, but he hit a wall in the fourth and fifth innings, as his command took leave. Wood lasted only 4⅔ innings, giving up 4 hits and 3 runs while throwing 99 pitches.
The Cubs trailed 1-0, thanks to a third-inning home run by the Pirates' Jordy Mercer. But Rizzo put the Cubs ahead in the fourth with a 2-run homer to right. It was his 15th home run of the season.
The Pirates chased Wood in the top of the fifth with 2 runs.
Rizzo and Castro have been neck-and-neck for the team lead offensively, and Renteria saved some of his most interesting comments for Castro, who had been much maligned the past two years for mental lapses on the field.
"I just think the way that he handles himself, he's a guy that, in my humble opinion, that if it starts raining, it's his fault," Renteria said. "If there's an automobile accident, it's his fault. I think that's kind of unfair. I think that he's a guy that does thrive on positive reinforcement. Quite frankly, I think most people do.
"He's learning. I'll state it again. He's had a lot of people that have come through his life here in the dugout and because of them, he's doing better, not in spite of them, because of them. He's experienced a lot of different ways of being dealt with. Believe me, he takes the good of everybody that's been here through the years that he's been here and tried to apply."