Even after a mediocre first half, there are reasons to believe this 6 game winning streak is just the beginning of a big second half for the Cubs. There were several circumstances conspiring against the Cubs having an elite first half like last season. Still, no one could ever expect the level of regression this team has experienced in the first half
The fact that the first half bottomed out so much could actually be evidence to a resurgent second half. The ole there’s nowhere to go but up theory. While that can be a reason in itself for optimism, I’ll add some tangible reasons for a case that the Cubs will dominate the second half and run away from the upstart Brewers and the rest of the division.
One reason is the back of the baseball card scenario. While this Cubs team is relatively young at almost every position player spot it is undeniable that the talent level suggests more success than failure is to come. More fact than fluke. After being so dominant one through five in the starting rotation last season, there is no reason to believe that the poor second half this staff has had will continue. Especially now that the club has added Jose Quintana via trade with the Chicago White Sox. So far in the second half the Cubs have had 5 straight good starts and would be five straight quality starts if John Lackey wasn’t pulled a hitter short of qualifying innings wise due to a high pitch count. Even the first start by Mike Montgomery was a good one until he hit a wall in the fifth inning. You get this
After being so dominant one through five in the starting rotation last season there is no reason to believe that the poor first half this staff has had will continue. Especially now that the club has added Jose Quintana via trade with the Chicago White Sox. So far in the second half the Cubs have had 5 straight good starts and would be five straight quality starts if John Lackey wasn’t pulled a hitter short of qualifying innings wise due to a high pitch count. Even the first start by Mike Montgomery was a good one until he hit a wall in the fifth inning.
If the Cubs get this staff right with the addition of Quintana, the return of Kyle Hendricks and more typical performances from Jake Arietta, Jon Lester, and even John Lackey you have a proven veteran staff that has proved to be up for the challenge of a deep post season run and one no offense looks forward to hitting against.
The bullpen is another reason to believe that this run continues. The Cubs have had a strong showing here minus a few rough spots here and there. The pen also figures to get even deeper and better once the inevitable return of Montgomery happens and you just know the Cubs will add an arm before the deadline and a possible addition from one of their minor leaguers like a Dillon Maples or a Pierce Johnson coming in and giving them a boost to the middle and possible back end of their bullpen.
Going hand in hand with the pitching is the defense of course. Probably the most surprising thing in the first half was the regression of a historically good defense the year prior. The starting pitching could be up there too, but there also is the factor of what good hitting can do to thwart a pitcher’s good efforts whereas, defense is completely in the hands of the individual. You know that the quality of athletes the Cubs have and the history throughout their careers as amateurs and at the big league level tells you to not expect bad defense throughout the season.
As the Cubs continue to put together good at bats throughout the lineup in the second half it offers a reminder as to just how potent this lineup actually is. From one through eight and sometimes nine (as this is a good hitting pitching staff and with the addition of a DH when they play in American League parks) there is no easy out and most offer plus power. Even the bench they throw at you can be starters on most clubs in the league. I won’t go through the roll call as we all know the names by now, but there is no reason to believe this club will be anywhere near as bad as it was in the first half and the pitching has a lot to do with it. One has to believe the early leads the starters were giving up on a regular basis was wearing on the young club and put way too much pressure on them to overcome their starting pitching’s short comings.
In the first half, there was the fact this Cubs team had two straight deep and grueling post season runs that no doubt added to their poor first half. The Cubs do have three of the top five pitchers in innings pitched the past two seasons in the form of John Lester, Jake Arietta, and Kyle Hendricks. With two of the three over the age of 30 that has to have an effect on the arms of these veteran pitchers. Also, factor in this was a young team that did not experience playing in this many games as in the minors and college players play far fewer games than they do in the pro ranks. Than there is the fact that this team was the team that broke the 107-year drought for the Cubs and that brought with it a bunch of off season demands in endorsements, appearances, and interviews. So to say they were dealing with distractions would be an understatement.
There was also the early season schedule conspiring against them. The quality of opponents and travel they experienced including a couple of long road trips both east and West clearly added to the fatigue of the team. Add to that all the rain out games they had to play which took away valuable off days. It was just a strange scenario. In the second half the Cubs travel schedule is much better. After today’s game the Cubs won’t be required to travel via airplane until the 8th of August. There is also the fact that the quality of opponent is in the Cubs favor. So the Cubs figure to be more rested and face more teams in the second half that don’t have anywhere near the talent the Cubs do.
None of this guarantees success especially in the post season as there are several strong teams the Cubs will face and can very easily be first round outs as much as returning to the world series and hoisting another world series trophy. The Washington Nationals and the Los Angeles Dodgers look as formidable as any including the Cubs.
The Cubs first round opponents in either the form of the Diamondbacks or Rockies at the moment in the current wild card standings also offer challenges to this teams chances of advancing to face those two monster teams. However, I can guarantee you just as Cubs fans may be nervous of those teams, those teams and their fans are not in any hurry to face the Cubs in the post season either.