The Cubs have lost eight of their first ten games in July. Pitchers are looking shaky, and the bullpen has been giving up runs like it’s their job. For many North siders, it’s time to panic.
But take a look at these two tables and compare the numbers.
|Starting Pitching||Starting Pitching|
If you’re like the rest of the world, at the break you’d probably want your team to be posting the numbers in the table on the left.
Well, guess what? You’re in luck, because your very own Chicago Cubs are. The table on the left is the Cubs’ numbers through the first half of the current season, and the table on the right is the Cubs’ numbers through the first half of the season in 2015. Pretty crazy, right?
The one flaw you’ll notice between these two sets of data is that both the starting rotation and bullpen’s FIP are significantly worse in 2016, but it’s truly no reason to panic. In July, the Cubs rotation has been going through a little bit of an identity crisis, giving up a ton of walks and home runs—things that directly affect FIP totals. Sure, these are things that lead to concerns, but at least they’re areas of concern that are easily pinpointed.
The thing is, the Cubs know this is just a bump in the road. Yes, John Lackey gave up more walks than he has all season just last week, while the Cubs may be fearing the unwelcome return of Second Half Hammel, and Jake Arrieta hasn’t been able to live up to what he was last season (which everyone knew was barely possible coming into 2016), but these are not major problems. No one has had season ending surgery, no one tried to make a pitcher past their prime into a revived ace, these are all just minor hiccups that will work themselves out.
If Cubs fans are concerned about the offense, it’s quite obvious that they needn’t be. The Cubs have three players in Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, and Ben Zobrist who are among the top ten in OBP in the National League, with Kris Bryant deserving an honorable mention at 13th. The Cubs have two players, Bryant and Rizzo, who are among the top five in slugging percentage, and Rizzo, Zobrist, and Fowler are all among the top ten in walk rates.
The currently flourishing disabled list is a concern no doubt, as it’s stacking up to look full enough to be it’s own major league starting lineup—however these are generally small stints and the Cubs are looking to reactivate their Fowler, who will no doubt help rejuvenate a weary offense, not long after the All-Star Break.
Right now, the bullpen is the immediate area of concern for this team. With an ERA that quickly fell off to just 9th-best in the National League, while demonstrating displays such as the disheartening loss to the Atlanta Braves just last week, it’s easy to see where Cubs fans would feel unsettled.
The thing to keep in mind is that well before July even began, the Cubs organization was aware that this was the area that they would most likely be searching for reinforcements for during the quickly approaching trade deadline. The merry-go-round of relievers that have seen everyone from Joel Peralta and Spencer Patton to familiar face C.J. Edwards take the mound for the last few weeks have put a dent in the bullpen’s production, that’s undeniable. But Cubs fans, take solace in understanding that that was simply a trial period. Before gunning for a trade, it would be foolish for this organization to not cycle through the talent they already have stashed in order to determine what to keep and what to possibly cut or use as trade bait. As simplistic as it sounds, the sentiment is true: It’s better to find out who has gas left in the tank in June than it is in September.
It’s become increasingly obvious from the content churning out of the rumour mill that the Cubs will most likely be targeting a left-handed reliever at the trade deadline. With Travis Wood being the only left hander that is here to stay, this is an upgrade that is certainly needed.
Adam Warren being slotted into the role of sixth man, Clayton Richard going on the disabled list, and Justin Grimm having his share of struggles were all things that were not accounted for at the beginning of the season, when the Cubs’ bullpen was so highly praised. But that’s how baseball works, you have a roster in April, and a lot of the times it looks like a banged up version of your shiny blueprint by mid-July.
The Cubs organization understands its needs, and if anyone is to look at the current state of the Cubs with a level head and a keen eye for how to improve an already exceptional baseball team, it’s Theo Epstein and Co. This front office understands why this team doesn’t need an Andrew Miller if it means giving up a Kyle Schwarber, and they know—just like last year—they don’t need to make the flashiest trade at the deadline to come away the winners. They just need to satisfy their areas of need.
It’s the All-Star Break. The Cubs have seen one game worth of Schwarber, they haven’t seen Fowler play since June 18th, and the bullpen has become more of a liability than an asset. But you know what the most important part to take away from all of that is? None of it has been detrimental to this team’s playoff chances. As I pointed out in May, of teams who go into the All-Star Break above .500, over 54 percent of them make it to October. The Cubs were in much worse shape last season at the break, and because of a strong and well executed second half, they got farther than anyone though a team whose Opening Day roster included Arismendy Alcantara and only dreamed of a Bryant-Russell tandem in the infield would have expected.
It’s not time to panic on the North side, it’s simply time to breathe.
Lead photo courtesy Jake Roth—USA Today Sports.