As the Cubs head out of the All-Star break, their fortunes for the 2018 season seem to be in good shape.
A late spurt just before the mid-season classic coupled with a sudden cold spell by their chief rivals have given the Cubs the best record in the National League by 2.5 games in the standings.
The Cubs also have one of the most favorable schedules down the stretch, with only 37 games remaining against opponents that currently have winning records. That’s tied for third-best among all NL teams with a winning record.
But there are concerns, and it starts with the schedule. Out of all the contending teams, the Cubs will have the most blistering pace in the last half of the season, having to play 69 games in only 74 days.
That starts tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals, in a span where they will play 21 games in 20 days.
With only six scheduled days off until the end of the season, the Cubs are tied with the Atlanta Braves for the least amount among the 10 teams with winning records. By comparison, the Milwaukee Brewers will play only 64 games for the remainder of the season and will have 11 scheduled off days.
Of all the teams contending for the playoffs in the NL, the Philadelphia Phillies may have the easiest route with 67 games remaining, 33 against teams with winning records, and eight days off scheduled.
And although the Cardinals are experiencing troubles, they have the second-softest road with 68 games, 36 against winning opponents, and seven off days.
That kind of schedule will push many players on the Cubs roster up to or past their previous limits. Albert Almora, Javier Baéz, Willson Contreras, Ian Happ, and Kyle Schwarber are all on pace to set career-highs in at-bats, while pitchers Tyler Chatwood, Mike Montgomery, and Brandon Morrow will all be close to or surpass career-highs in either appearances or innings pitched.
At this point, no one can be sure just how their production will be affected as the season wears on.
During this string of three straight postseason appearances, the Cubs have used there deep minor league system to either bring relief to the major league roster, create a spark of energy, or provide extra help as part of a trade.
From 2015 through 2017, the Cubs have used on an average of 47 players a season, with an average of 31 making a significant contribution (defined as 25 or more games for a position player, and 15 or more appearances for a pitcher).
Up to this point, the Cubs have used 39 players, 25 with significant contributions.
The Cubs could be hoping that players such as David Bote, Victor Caratini, and James Norwood are ready to step up and provide that spark, but there seems to be no one behind them ready to contribute if those players do not.
There are some that may hold out hope that veteran Chris Coghlan can lend a hand, but a 33-year-old batting only .146 in Triple-A might not be able to flip the switch if given a chance to return to the majors.
Over the past three seasons, the Cubs have used a flurry of trades involving their minor league players to bolster their major league roster. Unfortunately, they received practically no additional developmental talent in return.
That, combined with a loss of draft picks in 2016 and international signing restrictions, has combined to deplete the Cubs’ minor league resources. While they have talented players such as catcher Miguel Amaya and pitchers Cory Abbott and Keegan Thompson that may pique some interest, don’t expect teams to line up in order to deal the Cubs a potential difference maker for those players’ distant promise.
So as the trade deadline nears, keen interest should be had as to how the Cubs address this situation. Does the front office have the courage to deal a fairly significant major league player in order to supply reinforcements?
Will they try to scrape together something from their ramshackle minor league system and make the best of it?
Or will they stand pat and hope that injured players like Kris Bryant and Yu Darvish come back rejuvenated while their replacements hopefully continue to contribute at a high level?
If they aren’t careful, the Cubs could come out of the gate in the playoffs gasping rather than swinging.
Holy David Bote, Batman! What a game!
The Cubs beat the Washington Nationals on Sunday night, winning 4-3 with a dramatic, walk-off grand slam from superstar third baseman David Bote (audio courtesy of WSCR and Randall Sanders on Twitter). Max Scherzer and Cole Hamels were the big story of this game, going pitch-for-pitch against each other and treating fans to an outstanding duel. Sean Sears and I discussed Hamels in the first segment.
In our second segment, we looked at Bote and his historic slam. With Kris Bryant still without a timetable for his return, could Bote be pushing his way into the everyday lineup? What could that mean for the struggling Addison Russell right now, and then again when Bryant does return? In the final segment, we looked at the NL Central and talked about the suddenly red-hot Cardinals.
Mailbag episode! Featuring Kelly Wallace as a guest host
With the Cubs off on Thursday, Kelly Wallace of Expanded Roster sat in for Sean Sears on this Friday podcast to help me with the mailbag. First, we looked ahead at today’s game with the Washington Nationals and discussed a roster move. Does Jorge De La Rosa have anything left to offer?
In the second segment, we went head-first into questions about Jim Hickey, pitching development, and more. In the final segment, we looked around the NL Central — including a satisfying Brewers loss — before answering a question about Addison Russell‘s power. We finished with a question about hot dog condiments, and Kelly shared an awful pizza opinion.
Help us, Kris Bryant, you’re our only hope
The Cubs finished out their series with the Royals on Wednesday night, and the good news is that they took 2-of-3. The bad news, however, is that they lost 9-0 last night and got outscored 10-8 in the three-game series after being outscored 24-17 by the Padres in that four-game set. This team is not trending in the right direction heading into their next five games against the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers. Sean Sears and I broke it all down in the first segment.
In our second segment, however, Sean and I discussed some positive news on Yu Darvish and Brandon Morrow. They still have no timeline on either pitcher, but it’s easy to set up in your mind how Darvish is back on the mound for the Cubs at the beginning of September. On the downside, there’s no news on Kris Bryant. Also, we struggled to find nice things to say about Addison Russell other than his range at shortstop. Listen to the end, because I gave details on how you can win Cubs tickets!