Well, it’s been an interesting week or two, hasn’t it? Again, I must take some of the blame for being out of town and affecting the collective mojo…
So, first the good news: The Chicago Cubs’ season is not lost. Despite what Cubs Twitter thinks, despite a mediocre record the last month (14-15 in June), the Cubs are still among the top teams in the division. Why? Because no one else is playing particularly well, either. Milwaukee went 13-13 over the same span, as did the cardinals*. The standings have barely moved in the last month or so, though the Cubs do currently find themselves in second place.
The bad news? This team is not looking scary in any fashion. For some reason, opposing teams are licking their lips when they get to play the Cubs, when it should be the other way around.
In other words, there are plenty of red flags here, folks.
The biggest red flag is the fact that the starting pitching, which Joe Maddon and this reporter believe have to be the bell cow of the team, have fallen off statistically and fallen prey to injury. Jon Lester started the season in great fashion, posting a sub-2.00 ERA early on. While his ERA is currently 3.89, it’s 5.27 in his last 7 games. José Quintana started great, but the team has won only 2 of his last 10 starts. Kyle Hendricks is returning from injury. Cole Hamels is out with injury. Yu Darvish is 2-4 in 17 total starts and just can’t seem to win at Wrigley unless he pitches against us, I guess…
And don’t even start me on the bullpen…
OK, since you brought it up: Chatwood is better this year. Kintzler and Cishek are reliable. But that’s apparently it right now. Brad Brach has an ERA of 5.91. Mike Montgomery, who did this once upon a time, has a 5.67 ERA. Dillon Maples can’t or won’t throw strikes, and the same could be said about Carl Edwards. Even Pedro Strop is off his game, and he has missed time with injury.
But the Cubs signed Craig Kimbrel on June 7th, and he recently joined the ball club. Unfortunately, the bounce in their step after that June 7th announcement has left them, and the Cubs have 9 losses in their last 15 games. Since being put on the 25-man roster, he has registered 1 save over two appearances. Here’s a hard truth: You don’t need a $43 million closer if you can’t deliver him a lead in the ninth inning.
Another red flag is the Cubs record in divisional matchups. This is the meat-and-potatoes of their schedule, and it will go a long way toward determining the final standings. The Cubs play each division for 19 times each for a total of 76 games. Right now, their divisional record stands at 14-15. In 2016 (remember 2016?) they played the division to a record of 50-25. They ran laps around their competition that year. This year, their division record is below .500. Something has to change. Divisional matchups have to be the most important on the schedule. Period.
The third red flag lies in the stats of the season. Compare the team offensively to the pack of 30 teams and you’ll see some problems.
- The team is 13th in runs scored
- They are 16th in total hits
- Top ten for most strikeouts
- They are 15th in batting average at .253
- They are 12th in total bases
- They are 11th in RBIs**
These are not bad numbers, they’re just kind of meh. Teams that finish in the middle of the pack statistically typically finish in the middle of the pack at season’s end.
But fear not Cubs fans! All is not doom and gloom.
If there are red flags, then there has to be an opposite flag, right? After much thought on the subject, we’re going to call them Green Flags: encouraging signs that say that the season is not spiraling out of control…
How’s this for a green flag? Javy Báez is mashing. Willson Contreras is mashing. Both are starting the All-Star Game this month. Jason Heyward is quietly having a very good season on defense and offense. Kris Bryant is healthy and hitting the cover off the ball. Anthony Rizzo is steadily having another (ho hum) typical Anthony Rizzo season. Some better clutch hitting in the second half and a break or two along the way, and we are right back where we want to be.
Which brings to mind a second green flag, and it’s a big one: under Joe Maddon, the Cubs have historically performed very well in the second half. No kidding, they absolutely get the benefit of the doubt on this: After the calendar turned to August the last 4 seasons combined, the Cubs are a WHOPPING 152-79. You’ve seen it with your own eyes: Once the dog days hit, these Cubs seem to gather momentum. It’s as inevitable as death in Texas.***
Another green flag? Craig Kimbrel stands ready to help this team close games. It is a statistical truth that he is one of the most capable closers in baseball history. They brought him in for the type of nail-biting games we have become accustomed to. There is very little chance he’s forgotten how to close games since last October. But, again, we have to deliver him a lead that he can protect.
Personally, I’m looking forward to those nail-biters… and to a great second half.
Featured Image adapted from is istockphoto.com image by @emsheshan
* The author acknowledges his inability to capitalize the word cardinals and makes no apologies for it.
** The author is aware that the acronym RBI stands for “runs batted in” and is therefore already pluralized, but “RBIs” just looks and sounds better. You’re not my 6th grade English teacher, so stop acting like you are.
*** The author knows the phrase, this is a play on words.