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Fine, Get All the Negative Out: Let’s Talk About The Third Place Cubs

Analysis and Commentary
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Let’s just dump out everything bad right here. No optimism, no excuses, no caveats. Maybe it will be cathartic. Or maybe it will just be informative and depressing.

Here we go. On with the bad:

  • With last night’s loss, the Cubs fell to 16-15 on the year, third place in the NL Central, and seventh in the NL overall. They now have to head out west after a marathon game to play the Colorado Rockies, who are 20-12, the second best record in the NL. The Cubs have lost 7 of 11, and three of those wins came against a rebuilding Phillies club that is four games under .500.
  • As a team, the Cubs have so far sported a below average offense (96 wRC+) and below average pitching (3.93 ERA is 18th). This from a team projected to win 95ish games before the season began. Those projections, by the way, have dropped into the 92 win range.

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  • The Cubs have three starting pitchers with an ERA over 4.50 (Arrieta, Lackey, Anderson), another with a 4.68 FIP (Hendricks), and another who just threw 120 pitches on a cold May night to get through seven innings (Lester).
  • Speaking of which, the Cubs’ defense is ranked just 14th by total DEF, and 12th by UZR/150. The team has 10 Defense Runs Saved, which is top ten in baseball … but Addison Russell has 9 by himself and Jason Heyward has 7. That’s right: the rest of the Cubs, combined, have been worth -6 DRS.
  • The Cubs have two regulars with an above-average batting line. Kris Bryant sports a 148 wRC+, which is great, but is also lower than it was last year (149). Anthony Rizzo is the only other regular over 100, and he’s down a mere 103.
  • All of Jason Heyward, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, and Willson Contreras have wRC+ below 90. Contreras’s performance at the plate has been particularly alarming, as he’s not only batting just .209/.280/.330, but his walk rate is down from last year, his strikeout rate is way up, his power is way down, his hard contact is way down, his soft contact is up, and every other signal you can think of looks bad right now.

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  • To put things in an overly simple way, here is the Cubs’ roster, with the players who are performing worse than you’d expect (when considering all results and peripherals) bolded:

Catchers

Willson Contreras
Miguel Montero

Infielders

Anthony Rizzo
Ben Zobrist
Javy Baez
Addison Russell
Kris Bryant
Tommy La Stella

Outfielders

Jason Heyward
Albert Almora
Jon Jay
Kyle Schwarber

Starting pitchers

Jon Lester
Jake Arrieta
John Lackey
Brett Anderson (DL)
Kyle Hendricks

Relief pitchers

Mike Montgomery
Justin Grimm
Carl Edwards Jr.
Pedro Strop
Hector Rondon
Koji Uehara
Wade Davis
Brian Duensing
Felix Pena

  • Obviously you’re going to have underperformers in a given season, but so far, the Cubs are getting underperformance from so many key players that of course they’re struggling.
  • Also: Jason Heyward is hurt (knuckle injury, status going forward unknown), Javy Baez sure looked like he was hurt last night (foul ball off foot), Anthony Rizzo took a 100mph fastball off the forearm (X-rays negative), and the Cubs do not currently have a fifth starter (Anderson on the DL, also very ineffective so far).
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Considering all of this, the Cubs may well be very fortunate to still be a game over .500. But again, we’re talking about a team that, on paper, looked so much better than this in the offseason. So you’ll excuse me if I’m not really into “very fortunate” right now. Thankfully, there is still a great deal of talent on this roster, and I’d still project them to win a lot more games than they lose over the rest of the season. But these 15 losses so far, those are banked. And the deep, protracted slumps of some key Cubs are more troubling than the kinds that you can usually chalk up to flukey bounces and bad match-ups.


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Am I concerned that the Cubs will fall out of contention in the coming months? I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s certainly crossed my mind more in the last week than I thought it would in early May. Maybe that’s just me being a downer during a rough stretch, but, hey, I said I was just going to get all the bad stuff out right now.

If the Cubs can take two in this Rockies series, you suddenly start feeling good again heading into a weekend series against the Cardinals. The Rockies are pretty good right now, though, and the Cubs are coming into the series waaaay behind the 8-ball physically. Continued struggles, as least in the short-term, should not surprise you.

Then again, a quick turnaround shouldn’t surprise you either, given the talent and the fickle nature of baseball. Sorry, I know that’s not negative. I couldn’t help myself.


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Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor of Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation.

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