(photo via CBS Sports)
By: Thomas Gibbons
Gear up Cubs fans, it’s the home stretch of the regular season. Before we get into the remainder of the season and the trade deadline, let’s review the Cubs accomplishments to this point.
The Cubs were the best team in the National League at the All-Star break. It was a very impressive first half from the Cubs considering Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo missed time, and with Yu Darvish only pitching 40 innings. The biggest story of the first half has to be All Star second baseman Javier Baez. The 25 year-old has put himself in the race for NL MVP, hitting .292, with 72 runs batted in and 19 home runs in the first half. His swagger and passion for the game has mad him a face of the MLB and must-see TV.
Other highlights include the dominance of Jon Lester. He was voted to his 5th All-Star game earning a 12-2 record with a 2.58 ERA so far. All signs point to him being this consistent in the second half and maybe even better. Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks have had their highs and lows but finished off the first half pretty strong. One thing to remember about the starting staff is Joe Maddon will eventually go with a six man rotation to gear up for the playoffs.
The Cubs will start the remainder of the season with a five game series at Wrigley against the Cardinals. St. Louis fired skipper Mike Matheny just before the break. I was not that shocked by the move but it still took people by surprise. The Cardinals have fallen 7.5 games out of first and will likely be sellers at the deadline. Anyway, the Cubs open up with a favorable matchup. They will play a day-night doubleheader on Saturday.
Toughest stretch in the second half? Probably September 3rd-12th. The Cubs play three in Milwaukee (3-5) followed by a three game set in Washington (6-8) then the Brewers at Wrigley for three games. There will be no off days during this stretch. The Cubs can runaway with the division here if they haven’t already. Cubs have had the Brewers number this year, but who knows what additions they will make before the deadline. As for the Nationals, they currently sit at .500, though, no one is counting them out of a playoff race yet. If the Cubs run into Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzales, and Stephan Strasberg that weekend it’s going to be tough. Really tough.
Easiest stretch of the second half? I’m going with the last week and a half of the season. The Cubs will have three games on the South Side, Sept. 21-23, and wrap up the regular season with a seven game homestead with the Pirates in town for four, Sept. 24-27, and the Cardinals from Sept. 28-30. By this time, the N.L Central race could be called in favor of the Cubs and Maddon will start to rest his starters. If not, you better believe the Cubs are going to be on all cylinders to clinch another division title.
The trade deadline is July 31st and the Cubs are not expected to make any huge roster altering moves. Manny Machado, once connected with the Cubs, is headed to the Dodgers. Jacob deGrom may now be the biggest name on the market but what would the Cubs have to give up? Ian Happ and some prospects should do the trick but both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have backed that the current roster is all they need to chase another title. I’m sure the Cubs have reached out to the Mets because any chance you can make your team better you will. deGrom is under team control until 2021. A rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Dravish, Quintana, and deGrom would be scary, but it’s unlikely the Cubs will pay the steep price for the Mets star.
One guy the Cubs have been linked to for a few weeks is Orioles reliever Zach Britton. The 30-old left handed reliever has drawn a lot of interest around the league and he will definitely be moved before the deadline. It’s an expiring deal but the Orioles are going to sell high. Does David Bote and another mid-level prospect get a deal done? The Cubs will be in the mix until the very end.
Britton has not allowed an earned run since June 27th and in his last seven appearances, he has only walked two batters and his sinker has been lights out. Also, his ground ball rate sits at 68.8%. He would be an excellent addition to the Cubs already impressive bullpen.
Lastly, J.A. Happ has been linked to the Cubs. Happ would be a lot cheaper than deGrom in terms of what the Cubs would have to give up. He does not have the best numbers, 10-6 with a 4.28 ERA, but he ‘s a cheap rental and unlike Chatwood, his walk rate is very low. Oh and he made his first All-Star game at the age of 35. If the Cubs are worried about Chatwood and want some insurance if Darvish cannot figure it out, Happ is your guy.
Looking at the position players, the Cubs are all set in that category. Rizzo and Bryant are healthy, that’s the most important part of the equation. Bote, Happ, LaStella, Zobrist, Carintini is a great group of bench guys for Maddon to have in his back pocket. We know Maddon very well by now, the lineups are going to change, a lot. He always has a method to his madness and every guy in that clubhouse has shown they can be relied on. The Cubs are in a great spot with their starting group and I would not be surprised if they run away with the NL Central.
The Cubs have all the pieces to have a stellar second half. In 2016, it was the second half that made everyone realize how special this group is and the excitement that a World Series trophy could be coming to Chicago. Can they do that again? Absolutely. The Cubs should reach the 100 win mark and who can tell you they won’t at this point. If the bats stay hot, and Yu Darvish comes back with a bang, this group could do some special things.