There are assuredly a number of terrible, terrible questions the Chicago Cubs could have had to ask themselves entering the second half of the 2015 season:
Why is Kris Bryant only hitting .165 with two home runs?
Who will replace the injured Jon Lester?
What are we going to do about Jake Arrieta’s 5.69 ERA?
Who should we be looking to sell off?
In short, things are going pretty swell on the North Side. A 47-40 record, a relatively healthy club, and some Joe Maddon-esque “magic” are all contributing to a team well ahead of schedule. Therefore, most of the current questions concerning the second half are actually positive ones. For that, Cubs fans everywhere ought to thankful.
Can the Cubs start the second half off hot?
This might sound like a lackluster question, but it ends up looking pretty important when you consider the Cubs don’t play a team with a record above .500 until August 3 (Pittsburgh). The strange anomaly is that the Cubs are currently just 20-19 against teams with sub-.500 records, while having a robust 27-21 record against teams over .500. And when you consider they are just 4-9 against the St. Louis Cardinals, they are 23-12 against all the other better-than-.500 clubs. This counts as impressive.
It also counts as the Cubs potentially being a team that plays to their competition, which becomes alarming looking at the next three weeks. Regardless, on paper, the Cubs have an opportunity to set the tone for their second half with this stretch of games.
Our Bryant watch has ended; so can our Schwarber watch begin?
Kyle Schwarber has made a little bit of an impression if you hadn’t noticed. First he rakes in Single-A and Double-A (.323/.430/.591), then he drops in and says “hi” to big league club for a week (.364/.391/.591), and then he trots off to Triple-A (.333/.403/.633). And just for good measure, he nabs himself the MVP for the Future’s Game.
Commence overactive hype meter.
As we talked about yesterday, the Cubs’ offense has been pretty shoddy for the last month or so. They are 25th in slugging, which has culminated in just 23 extra base hits over their last 13 games. In short, they can sort of use Schwarber’s bat. But rumor has it he’s just not ready to catch at the major league level.
But Miguel Montero might be injured.
After jamming his thumb and a consequential MRI, there is a chance Montero could be headed to the disabled list. There is also a chance he won’t, in which case it’s a moot point. But if he does, Schwarber has to at least be considered, doesn’t he? Joe Maddon says Schwarber is always in the discussion when talking about the future, but the team isn’t to the point of seriously considering a call up.
I know when we’re talking about the ability to catch we are talking about a lot more than passed balls and shutting down the running game, but the Cubs need the offense and I think many just want to see Schwarber behind the plate to see how he does. If it’s for two weeks while Montero rehabs, then it’s for two weeks. And if it’s really as bad as all that, put him in left field and let him work on catching in the offseason.
Either way, the Cubs need the bat.
Is there a big trade coming?
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are notoriously quiet as they work, and they have been now for quite some time, which gives the impression something is coming.
And if it does come, will it be for pitching or for offense? Some reports have begun emerging that the Cubs will have interest in San Diego Padres’ outfielder Justin Upton, while others look to fellow Padre James Shields. If the Cubs were to find an offensive upgrade, that might curb the desire to promote Schwarber early, even though it appears Upton would just be a rental barring some type of agreement post-trade.
Though the Cubs have expressed interest in upgrading their rotation, their rotation has actually been exceptionally strong, so it would be surprising to see them break the bank for someone like Cole Hamels or Johnny Cueto, especially when they could opt to go after a big ticket free agent in the offseason and not have to part with prospects to get them.
Are the Cubs a playoff team?
Their current place in the standings suggests that they are, but their overall look seems to point towards a borderline playoff team –one who could get in (or be knocked out) based on a few (un)lucky rolls of the dice
It’s not uncommon to see young players tire out as the season progresses, and that’s going to be a critically important angle as we move into August and September. The Cubs, record wise, have been remarkably consistent. 12-8 in April, 14-14 in May, 14-13 in June, and 7-5 so far in July. But as the season gets longer and the games get more intense, what type of response do we get from all these young players? Does the pitching hold up? Does the offense turn things around?
This is where having Joe Maddon at the helm starts to fill you with confidence and excitement –two things the Cubs haven’t had exist in-tandem for a long, long time.