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50-51 Chicago Cubs win 5th straight game with trade deadline — and decisions — looming: ‘We believe in this clubhouse’

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Nico Hoerner couldn’t help but laugh with Chicago Cubs first-base coach Mike Napoli when he got on after his game-tying walk.

They realized Napoli didn’t have Hoerner’s handguard protector he wears on base thanks to the Cubs sending 12 batters to plate in the fifth inning Wednesday night against the White Sox.

“Good problem to have that go through twice and there’s equipment issues,” Hoerner chuckled.

Hoerner’s bases-loaded walk with two outs brought home the go-ahead run to cap a six-run inning against Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly. It represented the type of approach that fueled the Cubs’ comeback in a 10-7 victory on a muggy evening at Guaranteed Rate Field. They erased a 7-2 lead the Sox built through four innings.

Miles Mastrobuoni successfully reached based on a swinging strikeout-turned-wild pitch to score a run and keep the fifth inning alive. Yan Gomes’ pinch-hit hit by pitch set up Mike Tauchman with the bases loaded. Tauchman worked a full-count walk to tie the game, which Hoerner replicated on five pitches for the lead. Ian Happ’s and Cody Bellinger’s back-to-back home runs in the eighth provided breathing room en route to a fifth straight win.

It’s the type of performance over the past week that can sway the direction the Cubs take ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline. The impact of their play is not lost within the clubhouse.

“As players you want to do everything on your end that you can and the wins count the same now as it did in May, but these games do feel different with that, there’s no doubt,” Hoerner said. “It’s an opportunity to just embrace a situation where you’re playing meaningful baseball, and that’s really what we all want, right? It is a real factor and it’s something we’re all aware of.

“I think we’ve handled it in a pretty mature way of controlling our end of it day by day and we’re giving absolutely our all and I would love, love to play with this group for an extended period and see what that looks like.”

The Cubs (50-51 entering Thursday) haven’t been this close to .500 since June 24 in London. They recorded nine stolen bases and six home runs during their two-game sweep of the Sox.

“I think winning teams — teams that win the World Series, teams that play deep in October — they are able to score in different ways,” Hoerner said. “Obviously power is a huge part of that. Nice to have that show up more than we’ve had in some recent stretches, but you have the ability to run, the ability to just make contact. I feel like we’ve got a group that can do all things when we’re clicking.”

The offense bailed out Marcus Stroman, who has struggled to regain the command he displayed during the first three months of the season. Since June 25, when he exited with a blister in his London start, Stroman owns a 8.00 ERA, including seven runs allowed over 3 1/3 innings Wednesday against the Sox. His 24 earned runs in that span (27 innings) nearly equates to the total earned runs he surrendered in his first 16 starts (25 in 98⅔ innings).

Until that point, Stroman had led the majors in quality starts. He has recorded only one such outing in his last six starts.

As the Cubs continue their upward trend, they need Stroman to get back on track. He relies on feel with how his body moves on the mound and the rhythm he builds off that. His inconsistencies center, in part, on his inability to recapture his repeatable delivery. If the Cubs are going to make a run, they need a better version of Stroman.

Ironing out the consistency of his slider and getting that pitch locked in again is a key to Stroman being back on track.

“Not great at all,” Stroman said of his Wednesday outing. “Been struggling a little bit mechanically: timing, tempo, rhythm, just very inconsistent on the mound.”

Javier Assad’s performance in relief of Stroman gave the Cubs a chance at the comeback. He stranded Stroman’s two runners in the fourth and tossed a perfect bottom of the fifth after the Cubs reclaimed the lead.

The Cubs defense didn’t help Stroman at times. It appeared they had Andrew Benintendi picked off in the second inning when he started to steal second base but pulled up, prompting catcher Tucker Barnhart to throw behind him. As Benintendi got into a rundown, Bellinger did not throw to second base, and the Sox outfielder reached second safely and scored on Tim Anderson’s single to put the Sox ahead 3-2.

Tauchman picked up a ball late on a would-be flyout for Benintendi in the fourth inning, which fell for a hit to put runners on first and second with one out. Benintendi would come around to score, part of a four-run fourth for the Sox.

But good teams find a way to chip away and stay in games even when things are trending poorly. The Cubs head to St. Louis for a four-game series against the Cardinals making the case to the front office that this group should stay together.

“We believe in this clubhouse for sure,” Bellinger said. “A lot of winners in this clubhouse and we’re playing good baseball, and we’re excited to just keep going, continue playing our game.”

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