With yesterday’s win, the Cubs moved 52 and 30 on the year. They’re on pace to win a little over 100 games, three years after losing 100 games. The win also marks the beginning of the second half of the MLB season. For some, the recent slide into the second half seems to be a cause for panic. I am not alarmed. If this was September, I might be, but with a nine game lead and a home schedule in July and August that is conducive to the Cubs, we could be looking at 90 wins by Labor Day.
The First Half Highs
The highlights of the first half to me were in April and May when the kids came out strong. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat. Dexter Fowler was amazing at the plate along with Kris Bryant. Addison Russell was improving every day in the field as a 22-year-old shortstop as he turned into an RBI machine at the plate, even though he was hitting at the bottom of the order. Javier Baez has proved to be a versatile player as I have ever seen. He played all four infield positions and some outfield. He became Joe Maddon super utilityman.
The starting pitching was outstanding until two weeks ago when things began to slip. It has also been refreshing to see Albert Almora and Willson Contreras.be promoted and produce right away at the major-league level.
The First Half Lows
Kyle Schwarber’s knee injuries definitely were the worst thing that happened in the first half. Dexter Fowler’s injury was not as severe, but it had a huge impact upon the offense, especially at the top of the lineup. Jason Heyward has produced in the field but only a few times at the plate. Minor injuries to Tommy La Stella and Jorge Soler have affected the offenses ability to work counts as the young guys have been free swingers, except for Contreras.
Jake Arrieta looked human in a few starts. So have Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Jason Hamel. But to me, the bullpen is been the biggest concern. After Strop, Rondon, Cahill,and Wood, the rest of the pen looked troubled. Justin Grimm still has a spot for now, but the Cubs have swapped out Warren and Richard with Carl Edwards and Spencer Patton under the guise of being stretched out and an injury.
The schedule bodes well for the Cubs the next two months. Aside from a few games with the Rangers and Mets, the Cubs play a weak schedule with several days off to get ready for September. And many of those games are at home.
The second half only has one purpose and that is to get ready for the playoffs. I think there are four keys to the Cubs having an excellent second half.
The first thing needed to make that happen is that the Cubs need to be healthy. Fowler needs to be ready to go as does Jorge Soler. I also think Albert Almora will be a key defensive component to the Cubs in the playoffs. He may not be up in Chicago the rest of the summer, but what he learned there will help him prepare in Iowa.
Right now there are four players that the Cubs have in their minor-league system who could have a major impact on the bullpen in the next two months. Jack Leathersich, Brian Matusz, Aaron Crow, and Joe Nathan are all currently getting work in at different levels in the Cubs organization. I don’t think the Cubs are going to go outside to get an arm because I don’t think they are guaranteed anything with the arm they do get. The Cubs also don’t want to give up a prospect for a reliever, especially a rental.
I think Leathersich and Nathan will be the key elements. Leathersich has a wicked curve while Nathan brings experience the Cubs need. As for their roles, I don’t think that will be resolved for a little while.
This might be the only position that the Cubs may try and acquire from another team. If they do require another starting pitcher, that pitcher is going to be someone who is controllable in terms of years, and probably someone that is still young enough to be arbitration eligible. I don’t think the Cubs are tied to a preference of a right-handed vs. a left-handed pitcher. They just want a healthy #2-3 type of pitcher.
Willson Contreras’ job the next two months will be to keep Montero and Ross healthy by playing to three times a rotation. This will allow Ross to catch Lester and Montero to catch Arrieta. In addition, Willson is to learn from two masters about calling a game and pitch framing. I don’t know what Willson’s role will be when the outfielders will come back and if he’ll play out there when they are all healthy.
To me, these four things are essential to the Cubs winning in the playoffs. And here’s the thing a lot of people don’t understand: I’ll gladly trade losses in the regular season if it means we can pick up wins in the playoffs. The keys of health, a good bullpen, and being rested and ready to go will be essential.
It won’t be long. The playoffs will be here soon. They have three months to get these things fixed and ready to go.