By Todd Johnson
“Look, if we can improve the club through trade, we will. But our biggest fixes are inside the clubhouse. This is a team that’s largely the same club that won 200 games, averaged 100 wins a year over the last two years.” – Theo Epstein on 670 the Score’s Spiegel and Parkins Show.
And right now, that team is on pace to win about 76-78 games. It was rough to type that sentence. Watching this team spin its wheels everyday is not a joyful experience. Maybe Cubs fans have become spoiled by all the winning. I don’t think so. I think Cubs fan want more. They expect more. And I don’t think it’s wrong to hold the franchise accountable to that standard, to that expectation.
I get that it is hard to repeat. But I also get that there are 74 games left to play. That is a lot of baseball to make up a handful of games.
For the Cubs to get back to a playoff spot, they have some ground to make up on either Milwaukee and/or Colorado/Arizona. They are 5.5 behind Milwaukee and 7.5 behind Colorado. The schedule is actually in the Cubs favor.
It seemed like they spent most of June on the road. They will only have 5 games at home in July after the break. That’s not a lot. But in August and September, home cooking will be the order of the day. 17 of 29 games in August will be at home including series against the D’Backs and Nationals, their only 2 opponents above .500 that month. In September, 14 home games are set including 9 in a row.
In the second half, the Cubs only play teams with a +.500 record 21 times. 6 vs D’Backs, 10 vs Brewers, 3 vs the Nats, and 2 against the Rays. That’s just 3 games in July, 9 in August, and 9 in September. I am hopeful that the Cubs can make a run at both the Brewers and the Rockies.
Theo also spoke about whether the Cubs would go out and add to the team. He didn’t sound too enthusiastic about a blockbuster deal.
“The talent that rests inside our clubhouse, inside of the players who are wearing Cubs uniforms right now. We’ll do what we can to augment that. There’s not going to be a fundamental shift in the player personnel that we have. We like our club. We don’t like the way we’ve played to date.”
So, I think it is safe to say that Eloy Jimenez isn’t going anywhere. And I think the same can be said for Wade Davis. The Cubs could go out and add a player here or there, but what I inferred was that this was not going to be a trade deadline where the Cubs go all out and use their “prospect currency” to go out and get top tier talent. A couple of role players might be added. I think the big talent shift is going to come in the offseason when the contracts of Arrieta and Lackey end.
When it came to addressing what needs to happen to win, Theo was very blunt and put the onus on the players.
“To pull ourselves out of it, we just need to play better. Guys need to continue the growth they’ve shown in previous years and get ourselves out of some of the disappointing performances that we’ve had so far. It’s as simple as that. The answer is not going to be with some crazy trades.”
Yes, I am disappointed – very much so. But I don’t think making wholesale changes to the core of a young club is the answer. This team was built with idea of contending every year. It still is doing that, just not very well. The starting pitchers look tired and injuries have been a small factor. Hitters have regressed after having career years in 2016.
Then again, this is a team that is still composed of most of the players that came back from a 3 games to 1 deficit to win the World Series. There is a drive there to win. There is confidence, lots of it. But can they perform in the second half? That is the penultimate question.
The state of the Cubs is that they are still in the race. Luckily, there are 74 games left to make up 5.5 games. Hope is still alive. It is very much alive.