The Chicago Cubs are enjoying one of their most successful stretches in 70 years. But as hot as they've been, they've also had some fortuitous luck in terms of opposing pitchers they've drawn.
Their surge faces perhaps its biggest hurdle yet Sunday against Chris Sale and the White Sox.
The Cubs (67-48) have won nine straight and 15 of their last 16 and have been particularly potent offensively during a nine-game winning streak, averaging 5.8 runs and collecting 32 extra-base hits. That includes 21 runs over the last three games after a 6-3 victory Saturday at U.S. Cellular Field.
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Five players had two hits apiece, including Addison Russell's two doubles. Anthony Rizzo is hitting .431 with 15 RBIs in his last 15 contests after a 2-for-4 night.
The Cubs are looking to record a 10th straight victory for the first time since a 12-game run from May 19-June 2, 2001, and win 16 of 17 for the first time since July 1-16, 1945 - the last year they reached the World Series.
"It is awesome," said Kyle Schwarber, who drove in a run and has 14 RBIs in his last 10 games. "We have a really good ballclub. We're playing to our potential right now."
Over the last 16 games, though, the Cubs have managed to avoid elite pitching. They've faced five starters with ERAs below 4.15 in that span compared to six who are at 4.78 or higher. The lowest is 2.42 by Milwaukee Brewers rookie Taylor Jungmann, who made his 12th career start in a 6-3 loss to the Cubs on Tuesday.
Sale is the second straight lefty they'll face after putting together three runs in Jose Quintana's six innings Saturday. Sale (10-7, 3.47 ERA) bounced back from consecutive seven-run outings Monday against the Los Angeles Angels, yielding two runs over 7 1-3 innings in an 8-2 victory. He used 104 pitches after throwing 95 and 107 in five and 5 1-3-inning starts against Boston and Tampa Bay.
"I'm just trying to do what I've always done," Sale said when asked if he made any changes. "Just throw strikes and win games, just give my team a chance to win. That's all I can do."
He dominated in his only start against the North Siders on July 11, striking out 10 over seven-plus innings in a 5-1 victory at Wrigley Field.
"He was outstanding," manager Joe Maddon said.
Jonathan Herrera's double in that outing is the only extra-base hit by a current Cub in 33 combined at-bats against the left-hander.
While Cubs didn't gain any ground on Pittsburgh, which maintained its 1 1/2-game edge for the NL's top wild-card spot with a 5-3, 14-inning victory against the New York Mets, the White Sox (54-60) remained five games behind the Angels for the AL's second wild-card berth.
They've dropped 10 of 15, including seven of the last nine meetings on the South Side.
"They made some mistakes. We didn't capitalize on them, and we made some mistakes and they capitalized," said Robin Ventura, who was ejected for the second time this season. "They put some stuff in play and they scored when we made some mistakes."
Dan Haren (8-7, 3.55) makes his third start with the Cubs looking to end the home run problem has carried over from the end of his Miami tenure. He's given up three homers in 10 1-3 innings for Chicago and nine in his last five outings overall.
Haren is 3-2 with a 4.05 ERA in eight career starts against the White Sox.