By sweeping the Washington Nationals in their first four games following the All-Star break, the Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed to do if they intend to make a playoff run over the second half of the season.
In a division where five teams are currently within six games of first place, it was crucial that the Cubs not stumble and instead take advantage of their four-game series against the worst team in baseball.
They did exactly that and finished the sweep in dominating fashion with an 11-3 victory.
After displaying inconsistency both offensively and at the plate during the first half of the 2009 season, the Cubs seemed to finally start hitting on all cylinders against the Nationals.
Hitting only .248 for the season and averaging 4.2 runs per game, the Cubs hit .305 in the four-game series with 26 runs scored (6.5 per game), 11 doubles and six home runs.
After struggling for much of the season, Alfonso Soriano hit .400 with two home runs and five RBI while playing in three games during the series.
His go-ahead home run in the 6-5 win on Saturday was his first blast since June 7.
He added another home run in the series finale, marking the first time he had homered in back-to-back games since accomplishing the feat three times in April.
The Cubs are also hopeful that the return of third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who missed two months with a dislocated shoulder, will also help spark a second-half resurgence. Ramirez had his first home run since the injury in the series against Washington.
The pitching was also strong against Washington, as they limited the Nationals to nine earned runs (2.25 ERA) in four games. Each starter earned a win and pitched at least five innings.
Rich Harden did not allow an earned run in six innings, and Carlos Zambrano allowed only one unearned run as both pitchers started the second half of the season with solid performances.
The Cubs now stand only two games behind St. Louis in the NL Central, but must maintain their momentum against tougher opposition if they want to continue to put pressure on the Cardinals.
If they can prove that the sweep over Washington was a result of the Cubs getting it together, rather than because of the caliber of opponent, then they could be off to the races as they look to repeat as division champions.
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