Rookies bring energy, winning streak to Cubs

Javier Baez

Javier Baez walks through the dugout after hitting a home run in the fifth inning against the Orioles at Wrigley Field. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune / August 22, 2014)

The gang's all here.

Or so it might seem as the Cubs' minor league call-ups have contributed significantly to a recent winning surge.

For the first time since Oct. 3, 2012, the Cubs' starting lineup Sunday against the Orioles featured five rookies — Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Logan Watkins, Matt Szczur and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Watkins, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa when Starlin Castro went on bereavement leave, proved clutch at the plate and in the field during his brief stint. He was sent back to Iowa after Sunday's game to make room for Castro, who will return on Tuesday night in Cincinnati.

"It's like an Iowa Cubs party in here," Watkins said after he arrived at Wrigley Field last week. "It's good. It just shows that the organization ... they trust us to come up here and play the game."

Watkins hit .300 and drove in three runs in four games.

Baez has hit seven homers in just 20 big-league games and looks smooth in the field.

"We're never going to give up. We're going to play the nine innings hard every time," Baez said of his crew's mission.

Alcantara has four homers and seven stolen bases in 41 games while performing well defensively in center and at second base.

"It's pretty comfortable because you know guys from the beginning of the year," Alcantara said of his transition from the minors. "It's good because we are having fun. We know we are together."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria appreciates what newcomers have added.

"There's some energy, obviously. And I am hopeful that the energy they have with the guys who have been here … they are kind of coming together, they're jelling," Renteria said.

The Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep of the AL East-leading Orioles and have won six of their last eight.

"It doesn't hurt you when you are playing good baseball," Renteria said. "Your spirits are uplifted when you have some of the young men coming through in big situations with some timely hits or some really nice defensive plays. It doesn't hurt the atmosphere and it doesn't hurt the mood of a club. I think basically it just (builds) confidence in each other."

Major league rosters can expand next week, but four rookie pitchers already have made their big-league debut with the Cubs this season: Neil Ramirez, Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler, and Wada (who is 33).

"You have to tip your cap to the guys who are all down there in the minor leagues, working with all of these young men, preparing them to get here," Renteria said. "There may be times when there might be hiccups. You know they try to continue to make adjustments and move forward and play good baseball."

Learning on the job: Baez, certainly better known for his slugging than his bunting, raised eyebrows Sunday when he attempted to bunt in the sixth inning with a runner on second and no outs. He popped up the bunt to Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez.

"I spoke to Javy," Renteria said. "He is not your prototypical No. 2-type hitter. Would I rather him swing the bat? Of course. But I will say this: He is thinking the game. Everybody talks about young players not thinking the game. He was thinking about trying to do something productive for his team. It is not necessarily something I would want him to do in that moment … but his mind was in baseball mode."

Extra innings: Anthony Rizzo leads the Cubs with 52 extra-base hits and 70 RBIs. He has 11 homers on the first pitch of an at-bat, tops in the majors. … With a 13-10 record in August, the Cubs already have surpassed their win total for August 2013, when they went 8-20.

fmitchell@tribune.com

Twitter @kicker34

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