The Chicago Cubs have been a big pile of mediocre this season and in large part have looked like only a shell of their 2016 World Series team. While the Cubs continue to try to find themselves—80 games into the season—it’s time to start being realistic about what the Cubs actually are. They are one of the most talented teams in baseball and are severely under-performing.
The team who has gained the most from the Cubs’ disappointing first half is the first place Milwaukee Brewers. Yes, you read it correctly, on June 30, the Brewers are leading the National League Central with a 42-39 record. The Brewers have been one of the biggest surprises in baseball during the first half of the season and have gotten production from both their young and veteran players, have solid starting pitching, and have overall played some really good baseball.
One of the biggest keys to Milwaukee’s success this season has been the production they’ve received from the middle of their order. When they signed Eric Thames out of the KBO over the winter, they never would have guessed he would be as productive as he’s been. He’s on pace to hit over 40 home runs this season, which is what he’s done for the past two years in Korea. Thames’ transition back to the United States has been nearly seamless and provided a young lineup with a legitimate masher. Third baseman Travis Shaw has also provided the Brew Crew with some serious pop in the order. Shaw, acquired from Boston for injured relief pitcher Tyler Thornberg, is hitting .294 with 17 homers and a .918 OPS in his first season in Milwaukee. Throw in a healthy Ryan Braun, and you have a legitimate middle of the order which can hit with anybody. Corey Knebel has been a shutdown closer at the back of the bullpen, and even as a rest of the bullpen has struggled, he has provided the Brewers with a ninth-inning anchor, something even the Washington Nationals wish they had.
Despite being in first place and playing solid baseball, Craig Counsell’s club finds themselves in an interesting spot. The Brewers are technically still in the middle of their rebuild and were not supposed to be anywhere close to contending this season. The team had been trying to unload Ryan Braun and his monster contract for a few seasons now, but with the team playing as well as they have it may have expedited the team’s contention plans. The Brewers recently brought up two of their top prospects—Lewis Brinson and Josh Hader—and seem to have gotten serious about the idea of being a contender down the stretch. While nobody thinks the Brew Crew will add at the deadline, they are going to play this thing out and why not? The Brewers are playing with house money right now.
People keep expecting the Cubs to go on a hot streak and win 15 of 20 or 10 straight, but at some point, they actually have to do it. While it’s easy to laugh at the idea of the Brewers winning the NL Central this season with the Cubs lurking, they keep hanging around with no intention of going anywhere. Great teams find a way to flip the switch, but the Cubs haven’t shown that they can stay above .500, let alone go on a tear. The Brewers may run out of gas soon, but who knows? Until the Cubs decide to take control, the Brewers, at least for now, look like they’re here to stay.
Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports