The San Diego Padres have benefited from excellent starting pitching and some top-of-the league hitting from corner infielders Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer in jumping to a 19-10 start.
They've also gotten a clutch hit here and there, such as the three-run, two-out, pinch-hit homer from Jorge Alfaro on Sunday that turned what appeared to be a second straight shutout loss into a 3-2 victory over the Miami Marlins.
But what San Diego has benefited from most through almost the first fifth of the season is the schedule.
The Padres have faced only three teams with winning records -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks -- and they are 5-5 against those National League West rivals.
Against everyone else, the Padres are 14-5. They already have completed their season series against the hapless Cincinnati Reds with a 6-0 sweep.This past weekend, the Padres took three of four from the Marlins despite being outscored 13-8. Miami entered the series with a four-game losing streak.
On Monday night, the Chicago Cubs will play in San Diego with a five-game losing streak. The only team beneath the Cubs in the National League Central is Cincinnati.
Plus, the Cubs have holes in their rotation. Marcus Stroman was placed on the injured list Sunday just before he was scheduled to pitch against the Dodgers. Justin Steele, who was scheduled to open the three-game series against the Padres on Monday night, was pushed up a day and started Sunday, but he left the game before the start of the fifth with thumb soreness.
Right-hander Kyle Hendricks (1-3, 5.64 ERA) will npw start Monday's game against Padres left-handed rookie MacKenzie Gore (2-0, 1.71).
The Cubs haven't named starters for the second and third games, while the Padres are working with a six-man rotation due to a surplus of starting pitchers.
"It's a good problem to have," Padres manager Bob Melvin said recently of the six-man rotation. "No one has ever complained about have too many starting pitchers. Other teams would love to be in the position we are right now."
Like ... the Cubs, who beyond the five straight losses have lost eight of their last nine games and have gone 3-14 since opening the season 6-4.
"We have a long ways to go; there's no sense in getting frustrated right now," Cubs manager David Ross said after Sunday night's loss to the Dodgers on national television. "These guys are having good at-bats and hitting the ball hard. I see the effort. These guys are giving their all."
But there is a ray of hope for the Cubs on Monday.
While Gore has never faced the Cubs, Hendricks has had success during his career against the Padres. He has a 7-2 lifetime record against them in 11 starts, with a 3.00 ERA in 69 innings.
--Field Level Media