The Cubs are undefeated in July!
Granted, the month is only 2 days old, but still. Jake Arrieta dominated the Red Sox on Monday night and Edwin Jackson & Co. did more of the same on Tuesday. Sure, the offense hasn't done much, scoring just 2 runs in each of the games so far, but you don't need much when your opponent scores only 1 run.
A little less than a month ago, I had written a post titled: The Cubs Aren't a Bad Team, They're Just Bad at Winning. Of course, at the time I wrote it, the Cubs were already 3 games into a 5-game winning streak and had captured 4 of 5. However, they were sitting at 11 games under .500 at 23-34.
And while their current mark of 36-46 might appear to be only a tiny improvement, I think it's important to look a little deeper at the record. After all, if you're just staring at the forest, you sometimes miss the beauty and detail of some of its individual trees.
Let's first consider the number of series the Cubs have won in each month. You might not think that's a big deal, but if you go out and win 2 of 3 time and time again, you're going to end up with a darn good mark at the end of the season. The Oakland A's have the best record in baseball with a .614 winning percentage; winning series on a regular basis matter.
In the month of April, the Cubs didn't win a single series. They split a couple, sure, but no wins. Then in May, they took two, winning 2 of 3 against the Cardinals to open the month (Arrieta pitched the clincher) and then doing the same to the Brewers (or is it Broors?) two weeks later.
But despite collecting a few scattered wins, the Cubs sat at 20-33 as May wound to a close. But then the calendar turned to June and things started to turn around. The Northsiders swept Ron Santo's least favorite team (that's the Mets for the uninitiated) to kick off the month and then took 2 of 3 from Miami.
After a Pirate-shaped speedbump, the Cubs took down the Phillies and then the Marlins again, before one more dropping 2 of 3 to the Bucs. Still, that was 4 series wins in the month, if you're counting. And with Arrieta's dominant outing and the team effort on Tuesday, they've already guaranteed a winning start to July.
At the end of the day though, it's all about wins and losses. Okay, so let's look at what the Cubs have been doing in that regard. I mentioned earlier that the Cubs opened May by taking 2 of 3 from the Red Birds. Actually, they took the first 2 games from their division foes. However, all the Cubs did after that was drop 7 of their next 8 and 10 of their next 12, including 3 of 4 to the White Sox and a sweep at the hands of the Braves.
Things were looking very ugly on the North Side, as the Cubs sat 14 games under only 40 games into the season. If you did nothing more than look at the Cubs' record in May (11-16), you'd see the same old story and you'd be falling into the same narrative trap.
And I guess that's all well and good if you just want to be lazy or if you're one of those folks who likes to lament the fact that the Cubs just trade all their good players every year. Woe is me, they're just going to trade Arrieta and Bryant and Baez anyway. Let me go find some thistles to eat; hey, Winnie the Pooh, can you tack my tail back on?
Sure, if you simply looked at the month of May and saw that record, you might be content to file it away as a lost cause. But somewhere along the way, the Cubs started to get better, started to turn right the ship that had been listing drunkenly to one side or the other.
Since that low-water mark on May 16th, the Cubs have gone 23-19. They had (gasp!) an over-.500 month of June and they're carrying that right into July. In Fenway, of all places. It's clear that this team still has lots of holes, though maybe not as many as Junior Lake's swing. Good golly, Miss Molly, I bet his heat map has more blue than the Cubs road unis.
But despite some individual struggles, the Cubs are finding ways to win. And please don't confuse that with Hawk's TWTW; I mean simply that they're doing little things right, or maybe just not doing big things wrong. Starlin Castro, in particular, has been a revelation.
Not as though this kid was some kind of unknown, but there were certainly more than a few Cubs fans willing to ship him out for whatever they could get in return. But with a plate approach that looks much more mature and refined, Castro is performing in the cleanup spot and leading the team in hits (93), avg (.286) and RBI (47).
And the defense? Castro's always had range for days and the ability to make the spectacular plays, but it's the routine balls that have given him issues. He's far from perfect (11 E's and a -.2 dWAR), but 8 of his errors came in the first 2 months of the season.
At the time of the May 16th turning point, Castro had 7 errors in only 40 games; in the 42 games since, he's made only 4 miscues. That might not seem like much to celebrate, but my neighbors seem to think it's enough to merit a series of bottle rockets and firecrackers. At least, I think they're happy about Starlin and not just needlessly lighting fireworks during the entire week leading up to the 4th.
I'm sure the saber junkies can add a little to my unscientific view of Castro and the Cubs, but I've watched them enough to know that I'm seeing something different lately. It's entirely possible that this thing is only held together with duct tape and dumb luck, but it looks like more to me.
The long-term signees like Castro and Rizzo are living up to their billing, but more than that, some of the unheralded pieces this front office has acquired have been quietly putting together solid seasons. If these guys don't watch out, the're going to play themselves right out of a top-10 draft pick.
And while late-season surges were basically frowned upon in the past, given the need to replenish the farm system, this doesn't feel the same. You know that feeling of helplessness when you wake up in the middle of the night with a full bladder and no light to guide you?
Mind clouded by sleep and a singular drive to seek relief, you proceed gingerly, hands out in search of touchstones and hoping not to bang into anything too solid or sharp. But eventually, you begin to make out shapes and your blind fumbling turns into cautious confidence. Soon, your pupils dilate fully and you're able to navigate easily.
Tom wrote the other day that it's okay if the Cubs start winning now, and it looks to me that that's exactly what they're doing. But they still need to watch out for that bedpost; it's a doozy.
Follow me on Twitter: @DEvanAltman
Thanks for reading; if you enjoyed it, please share with others. And if you'd like to be updated on my future posts, and those from the rest of the Cubs Insider team, you can subscribe below.
Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
And be sure to like Cubs Insider on Facebook. You can also
Filed under: Uncategorized