Latest trade adds to Cubs’ building confidence in the second half of the season

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MILWAUKEE, WI – JULY 29: Jason Heyward #22 of the Chicago Cubs is congratulated by Willson Contreras #40 following an eleventh inning home run against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on July 29, 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO - A good weekend brought some more good news around 9:30 PM for the leader of the Cubs.

After just taking two-of -three games against the Brewers to solidify their place at the top of the National League Central, Joe Maddon received a call from team president Theo Epstein to inform him of the latest move made by the club to solidify a stretch run.

It cost the team two more prospects, sure, but in return the added to their bullpen and brought in a veteran catcher to spell Willson Conteraras down the stretch.

"This time of the year when you add people like that and the players in the clubhouse know are going to make you better, it makes the vibe even greater," said Maddon of the Cubs acquisition of closer Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila from the Tigers in exchange for Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes along future future considerations.

It provides a solid end to quite a month of turnaround for the Cubs, who began the month three games behind the Brewers in the NL Central and now lead the division by 2 1/2 games. Since the All-Star Break, the Cubs are 13-3 and have made up eight full games in the division after taking 2-of-3 from Milwaukee this past weekend.

"You try to make moves that set yourself up for October,-and hopefully to get to October," said general manager Jed Hoyer of the Cubs moves in July. "You make moves to set yourself up for the future as well."

Indeed the Cubs front office has done that in their two major trades since the All-Star break. The acquisition of front line starter Jose Quintana from the White Sox gives the team a quality starter whom they have club control through 2020. Wilson (2.68 ERA, 13 saves, eight holds) will be under the Cubs control through next season, providing them insurance if current closer Wade Davis leaves after this season.

Meanwhile Avila give the Cubs the veteran catcher then need behind the young Contreras, a position vacated when Miguel Montero was released in June. In many ways it's an upgrade for the Cubs since Avila is hitting .274 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs with an on-base percentage of .394.

"Alex is not a backup catcher," said Maddon. "He's going to be serving as one in a sense, but he's not that. He's a regular, everyday, solid major league catcher that we get to work in. Either way, neither one is going to be tired."

That will help a club that enters August looking more like the World Series Champions from a year ago than the one that was lost at the beginning of July. Tests are ahead for the team as they return to Wrigley Field to face the Diamondbacks (60-45) and the Nationals (63-41) in back-to-back three-game series, but like many times in the Maddon era they are welcome challenges.

"Everyone in our clubhouse knows we are fighting for a World Series again," said pitcher Mike Montgomery. "The first half didn't go great, but the second half everyone's had  that mentality of 'We're going for it.'"

Their management has shown that in their actions over the past 31 days.


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