State Of The Union

We have seen it for three seasons now, the pattern that any Cubs season will take amongst its fans. There's always a faction, waiting impatiently to strike at the first sign of trouble to declare everything a facade, a phony, and to decry everyone in the organization an overrated and overhyped peon that will assuredly tear the whole city down with it. To counter that, there's a another group that waits impatiently to declare that they always believed, to stick it to the first faction, so that they can claim a superiority when the Cubs win that they were there the whole time and "never left the bandwagon." Everyone wants to be right, and perhaps more to the point everyone wants to be seen to be right.

So figuring out where the Cubs actually are can be a bit tricky if your vision gets clouded by the migraine you assuredly get from listening to all the noise. So let's try and get there while turning the volume down.

These are the facts of the case: The Cubs have the best record in the National League, and are in first place in the Central by 2.5 games. They've done this with their #2 starter either ineffective or hurt all season. They've done it while Kyle Hendricks has been basically trying to figure it out. They've done it while Jose Quintana has been iffy at times. They've done it with fifth starter who is something of out Meow Wolf. They've done that while their two best players, "Bryzzo" if I must, really haven't been all that good for chunks of the season, and with Bryant carrying an injury that could linger all season (and he's still on course for about a 4-WAR season, which is quite the "off" year). These are the facts, and they are indisputable.

What they mean is certainly open for interpretation, and the changing way in which we view a baseball season also plays a role. Let's look at the second part first.

For the rest of the regular season, you can be pretty safe in saying that the Cubs are likely to win the Central, and are only slightly less likely to finish the year with the best record in the NL. And if you're worried about the Dodgers possibly getting Manny Machado later today, remember they're already 2nd in the NL in team slugging and 4th in team wOBA (or 1st and 3rd in a non-Rockies category), so how much better Machado can possibly make their offense is a question. The Cubs rotation, even in its iffy state at the moment through injury, inconsistency, and Lester's magic act, is still likely to be much better than the Brewers', and that really should be enough. The offense is better, too. Sure, a Brewers acquisition of Jacob deGrom might change the math a little, but we're not here to discuss the effect of trades that haven't happened yet.

However, we don't view "success" in baseball through regular season accomplishments any more. It still sounds weird to some, but basically the judgement of this season and the many more to follow are based on the 3-17 games the Cubs will play in October, where the methods and rules are almost entirely different.

And for the "this team is a fraud" crowd, you can see the potholes. One, the Cubs have never looked like the Astros, Red Sox, or Yankees, though the Cubs would only have to "get hot" against one if everything worked out. Meanwhile, those teams will most likely have to beat the other two just for the right to get to the Cubs or someone else.

The Cubs bullpen unquestionably has worked a bit too much to feel totally comfortable, but that is highly unlikely to make a difference in the regular season. It obviously could in the postseason. While much was made of the unique nature in which the Astros essentially "piggybacked" relievers in some games during their run last year, they still had Verlander every few games to come in, throw down the hammer, and everyone went on with their lives. None of his starts were less than six innings. The Cubs didn't have much of a pen by the time the playoffs rolled around in '16, but they had Lester, Hendricks, and Arrieta which saw them outlast both the Dodgers and Cleveland, who could only use three starters each and only one "plus" pitcher.

Right now, it's hard to see where the Cubs get that one dominant postseason starter. Some of you will scream "LESTER!," but the markings of a 2nd half regression are too hard to ignore (as pointed out there by a truly talented, charming, and handsome writer). Hendricks gave us that one start in San Francisco, and has the playoff pedigree from the past, but until he puts it all together in the season you'll never be sure. Quintana and Darvish are both capable, but you know the questions hanging over both of them right now.

While the Cubs have a great pen overstocked with arms right now, it's really, really hard to bullpen your way to 11 postseason wins. It can be done, but it's generally a good idea to have at least one guy every fourth game or so who just goes, "Here's seven innings where they'll do nothing so go get three runs you morons." Remember Lester put up three of those starts two years ago, and Hendricks managed four (though somehow the Cubs lost two of those).

In the NL however, it's hard to see where someone might do that to the Cubs. The Nats are a mess. The Phils are interesting as Nola, Arrieta, Pivetta, Velasquez, and Efflin are pretty nasty, but they're doing it for the first time and who knows how they hold up. The Braves? Get outta here with that. Only the Auld Enemy of the Dodgers are a possibility, but other than Kershaw and his back made of graham crackers now they're doing it with spare parts and reclamation projects. If you want to trust Ross Stripling when the lights are brightest, you go right ahead.

That still leaves the AL monsters, but that's the price you pay for going that far. The Cubs simply can't match up with anything the Red Sox or Astros can throw at them, and we'll worry about that then.

The offense is probably enough, and with any revival from Bryant and Rizzo is certainly is. You don't want to have to trust Happ, Schwarber, Baez, and the supporting cast to carry the team, but a few of them already have in a postseason so you wouldn't toss your eggs either at the prospect.

So there's something for everyone. You're perfectly right to think the Cubs are going to cruise through the rest of the regular season, especially given how they've closed in the 2nd half for three straight seasons now. And you're also right to be apprehensive about the playoffs, where the final verdicts will be rendered. Sadly, these are two different forms of baseball, and it's hard to have a team for both.

She's a strange beast, this game.

Comments

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  • Good read Sam. I appreciate the "A Few Good Men" references.

  • Thanks Sam, need a link on the front page to read he article at the end of the opening paragraph.

    Always easy to find fault and hard to appreciate a body of work. Lots of baseball left, Hendricks can find his mastery, Quintana can contine to increase his MOR work and apparently Cubs will add depth in the rest of the pitching ranks.

    Each year players rise and fall in their game and this might be the year of Baez, Heyward and Schwarber. It all matters least as the only time big guns have to produce is in October.

  • The last sentence of the second to last paragraph is what I've harped on since the 2008 walls crumbled down (I was 26 years old at the time). It is really difficult to put together a roster that can dominate both seasons. This has guided my philosophies on fanning.

    However, I contend that the Cubs will make a push and possibly overtake one or two of the AL teams, record-wise. Consider, since the Maddon Mutiny before the 2015 season, the Cubs have compiled an aggregate 149-73 record (.671%) in second halves. This includes 50-25 (.667%) in 2015, 50-23 (.685%) in 2016, & 49-25 (.662%) in 2017. That is amazingly consistent. If, the Cubs play to their recent historic levels in the second half & win 46 of their remaining 69 games (.667%), that will push them to 101 wins. In the least, that would put them in competition for best team in baseball. Astros, Yankees, & Red Sox are not unbeatable. Cubs aren't either though. Just wouldn't be shocked to be singing a different tune come October regarding the dominant AL. Cubs should be dangerous.

  • In reply to RizzowiththeStick:

    Sounds good, I like our chances.

  • In reply to RizzowiththeStick:

    Actually I think that how the 3 AL clubs are now will help the Cubs.....they see what they are and will be more aware that they really will have to crank it up to a higher level to succeed. I really expect the Cubs to carve up the rest of the NL in the last 70 games.
    The playoffs will be a whole different animal....it will be tough, should be really fun to watch....

  • Cubs need something to happen with the starting pitchers. I agree Lester has been the El Mago of the pitching staff and I would be greatly surprised if his magic continues in the last 70 games. Sam covered the rest of the starters and their capabilities very well but he neglected Chatwalk. If he suddenly reverts to his Rockie form , maybe it won’t be so rocky. Without Darvish , I don’t see Monty holding up for the rest of the year either. Not sure where Epstoyer will find help but I hope it’s a # 3 or better.

  • I'm gonna keep my fingers crossed, hope & pray that darvish gets healthy and can pitch up to his capabilities in the 2nd half.He's supposed to throw off a mound I believe this week.

    Would like the cubs to get a lefty bullpen pitcher that's more effective than duensing or montgomery. Rosario is solid but he's not really strikeout nasty he gets outs though. Hopefully britton if it doesn't cost too much

    I just posted this in the other thread but machado is going to the dodgers.Trade is being finalized according to rosenthal

  • In reply to bolla:

    I don’t see the point of this trade from the Dodger standpoint. Offense isn’t their problem and then next Spring they have 3 good players for 2 positions, Turner at third and Seager the shortstop.
    Have to wait to see what the haul will be.....but it just looks like an all-in now for this year but that pitching of theirs......this is nooooo guarentee.

  • In reply to Wickdipper:

    Never a guarantee but it improves their chances and can make it more difficult for the Cubs if they face the Dodgers in the playoffs.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    It remains to be seen how much Machado will help the Dodgers but it can help the Cubs in the immediate future because the Dodgers will be playing the Brewers 7 games in the next 2 weeks. In addition, even with Machado the Cubs have a better offense this year. Does Machado have as much range at SS as C. Taylor (Dodgers current SS)?

  • "If you want to trust Ross Stripling when the lights are brightest, you go right ahead."

    Tonight was a look, under the bright yet meaningless lights. Good call.

    Lester will probably regress in the second half. And that one faction will scream "see I told you so" but I still like him over most when the games count in October. His post season track-record speaks for itself.

    Hendricks, Q, ... yeah, but we absolutely have to get something out of Darvish for this to work.

  • As of today, the 2018 Cubs land in "The Hall of Very Good," with a reasonable shot at the top seed in the playoffs, but still only about a 10% chance of jewelry (538 and others). By comparison, Chapman moved the 2016 team from about 20% to 25%. Theo could pick up a couple bullpen arms but there isn't anyone available that could move the needle as dramatically. Even another starter isn't going to be Sutcliffe '84. Playoffs are a crap shoot with a cluster of respectable teams, so a good outcome would be a rubber match with the Dodgers in the NLCS for a chance to see games 3-5 at Wrigley vs. Astros/Red Sox/Yankees. Current odds have the AL winning the Series 60-65% which is huge. 29 fan bases are disappointed every season, but playing for the short side of a 65/35 bet is way more fun than buying a Powerball ticket. Depends on your definition of bandwagon.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    Anything can happen in a 7-game series. Of course I want the Cubs to win it all, but losing to the Yanks/BoSox/'Stros in the WS is whole lot more palatable to me than losing the NLCS to the Dodgers again.

  • Who the Cubs acquire before the trade deadline (yes, that will happen) depends hugely on how they feel about Darvish's chances of being a major contributor in the 2nd half of the season.

    If good, then bullpen by all means. Probably a lefty with heat, but they won't be too picky. Maybe a good RRP, maybe both. Bottom line - the AAA shuttle has performed amazingly this year for the Cubs, but they will not be counting on any of them for the playoff race nor for the playoffs. Not saying one or two won't surprise and do awesome in that environment, just that they won't be depending on that.

    If the expectations for Yu are bad, then the FO has a lot of work to do in the next 13 days. Expect an MOR-type pitcher, at least, in the rotation.

    This year is special, folks. The Cubs have a more than good opportunity of obtaining home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. That means everything is in play, and when I say everything I mean everything. This could be the most important month for Da Cubs in a long time.

  • You're arguments are sound, in that, the Dodgers are the main competition for the NL. However, when confronting a hot team, anything can happen.
    If the Cubs get to the WS, their pitching will have to be consistent and good to have a chance. But if they're hot, again, anything can happen. I truly believe the playoffs more often than not do not see the best team winning , but the hottest and healest team usually prevails.

  • In reply to hawk1943:

    Your point about the hot team in the playoffs may just prevail, not just the best team, is something I agree with. My point is that the Cubs have a very good chance of getting into the World Series this year, with the current state in the NL. Getting into the WS gives them a 50% chance, minimum, of being champions again, with their success in big games.

    Therefore, there should be no stone left unturned when looking for chances to improve the team.

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Note my earlier post. Getting into the WS is definitely not a 50/50. Both 538 and Fangraphs have the AL teams' chances summing into the low 60's and with three teams on track to have well over 100 wins, AL is likely to have home field advantage. Way too early to count those chickens, but 35/65 or best case 40/60 chance for the NL pennant winner, whoever that may be. Both simulate based on strength of remaining schedule and current roster.

  • In reply to charactercounts:

    No, I don't think it's a 50/50 chance for the Cubs to make it to the WS, nor did I say that. They will have to win 2 rounds (assuming they win the division) against two very good teams.

    But I do think experience playing on the biggest stage matters, especially if that team has succeeded. That gives the Cubs an advantage over most of the Yankees, and probably most of the Red Sox, too.

    Don't rely too much on these so-called "expert predictions". I recall that the Cubs chances were less than 10% when they were down 3 games to 1 against Cleveland, according to more than a few "so-called experts".

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    Anthony Bass, James Norwood and maybe even Smyly shows me how deep our bullpen is. There is some talk about Eovaldi--he is doing fairly well this year, but what would we give up for him? He is a rental too.I think as everyone else that Yu is the turning point to the season. If he comes back strong it's like we have traded for a pitcher, if not, then we'll have to trade or find our pitcher in our system.

  • In reply to Jonathan Friedman:

    If the Cubs trade for a bullpen arm its shows it is not as deep as you think and they know Maddon won't trust the AAA arms in the playoffs.

  • In reply to WaitUntilNextYear:

    If Montgomery stays in the starting lineup it might be a good idea to find a lefty for a replacement in the bullpen. I agree, the Cubs have had good luck with AAA relievers, but I don't know if they can be relied on through the playoffs. I think we'll see them more during the 2nd half as they are "tested."

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    I think Monty would go to the bullpen in playoff series. Usually start three starters and maybe a fourth in the WS.

  • Ok...so they have Shildt for a manager.....
    but, how do you pronounce his last name?

  • I think it is pronounced In- tur- rum in your best Charles Barkley voice...

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