Now in late July it’s not premature to say that the Chicago Cubs have a very mediocre offense. They’ve slipped to 28th in batting average and 26th in slugging, and have now even struck out more than the “All-we-do-is-hit-home-runs-or-strikeout” Houston Astros. Their tendency to walk (3rd) has them eeking out a 23rd in OPS (.684). Add in the recent sweep at the hands of the Philadelphia Phillies, plus a Cole Hamels no-hitter for flavor, and you see a team in desperate need of a bat.
Or maybe it’s a team in desperate need of doing absolutely nothing at the impending trade deadline.
This is not a case of prospect hoarding –a disease that has become, understandably, rampant among Cubs fans since all the bright and shiny prospects came to the doorstep. Rather, it’s a reality check. We want so badly —so badly– for this team to be good and 2015 has given us the first taste of that. Maybe not World Series good, but good.
Because of that, everyone’s excitement bubbles over. So much so that you start to entertain the idea that the Cubs are a pitcher away, or a batter away from true contender status. I believe this last week has shown that’s just not the case.
Every team has bad weeks, so I’m not jumping ship on the team’s chances because a team as paltry as the Phillies kicked their teeth in, but the Philadelphia series was indicative of some larger truths. As the Cubs offense has scuffled, scuffled, and then scuffled some more, the team’s overall performance was consistently saved, or at least made better, by some stellar starting pitching. What happened against the Phillies is what Cubs fans have been bracing for for several months: the pitching wasn’t there. And lo-and-behold, the offense still wasn’t either.
All of that is not to say the Cubs don’t already have many of their long-term offensive answers already in-house. Logic would tell you Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, and Kyle Schwarber are going to improve; it has become so easy to forget just how young these players are, and how much is being demanded of them at that young age.
When the deadline approaches every year, it has become such an obsession trying to label each team as a buyer or seller. No room is left for a middle ground. In the age of second wildcard spots, and 24 teams being within shouting distance of a playoff berth, it would be an ideal time for teams to take honest assessments of themselves and accept the reality that, regardless of your whimsical dreaming, your team is not one piece away from making a World Series run.
That won’t happen though. Playoff appearances look good on resumés. But for the Cubs, the reason patience –for the fourth year in a row– is again pertinent is because the Cubs don’t yet know what they have in even some of their brightest of prospects. What if you trade your best trade chips for a pitcher or an outfielder, then Russell doesn’t develop as predicted and Starlin Castro continues his nosedive into mediocrity? Suddenly, your once crowded infield is at the mercy of a developing Javier Baez. Something that looked like a slam dunk strength is now a glaring, gaping hole. It’s that easy.
Another reason to consider doing nothing is that the team looks tired –something entirely predictable and understandable for a team with a core of everyday rookies. They wear out. Even players like Anthony Rizzo have clearly been in an offensive downturn for several weeks. As of this writing, the Cubs are 2 1/2 games out of the second wild card spot –a spot they led by multiple games just over a week ago. Were it not for a Kyle Schwarber miracle, and a five-run, come-from-behind rally, the Cubs were looking squarely in the face of being swept by the Cincinnati Reds –a team currently 10 games under .500– across a four game series.
That’s no promise that the Cubs are going to fade down the stretch, but it’s why there shouldn’t be much surprise if they do. And that’s OK.
Let this young team learn how to win (or gain the experience of losing) through a playoff race. If they get in, great. If they don’t, they’re more than loaded for next season and have a full season of results to weigh future moves, along with a full offseason to add talent, and a farm system that will have remained stocked (from not trading now) to add even more when the deadline comes around again next season and the Cubs are actual contenders. Not peripheral ones.
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