With yesterday’s loss to the Padres, the Cubs went 0-fer on their West Coast trip, and fell to two games under .500.
They hadn’t lost six in a row in the Joe Maddon era until now. They hadn’t been two games under .500 in the Joe Maddon era until now.
So, here we stand in June, and the reigning World Champion Chicago Cubs, arguably as good or better on paper as the team that won it all, look surprisingly fallible.
Unlike last year when the Cubs went through their terrible stretch in June and July, and I could see that the pieces and the game-by-game results were all still there for the team to be more than fine, I see the performances of this year’s club and I have questions. I have concerns.
Like I wrote yesterday, there is a long list of things dragging down the Cubs’ performance that are not necessarily “ah, no worries, it’s actually fine when you dig in” kinds of things. I am much less confident about natural course-correction this year than I was last year.
You can read Cubs player thoughts here at the Tribune on the latest loss, the Cubs’ sixth in a row, and third straight to a tanking Padres team.
It’s all what you’d expect to hear – the same old “we’re not panicked, just keep grinding, it happens” stuff – which I don’t offer as a criticism. Not only would you not want to see them saying “MY GOD YES WE’RE REALLY FREAKING WORRIED!!!”, but you also want them truly to believe that the talent is there, and this is just a stretch where baseball is gonna baseball. It’s our job as fans to do the worrying.
So, then … am I worried?
About what, exactly? The Cubs not making the playoffs? Yeah, I’d say my confidence about that was definitely eroded by this road trip.
I say that not only because those six losses really, really sting in the long run, but also because I am concerned about the length of time for adjustments that might be necessary for young – and key – guys like Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell, and Ian Happ. It looks like Willson Contreras is turning things around, and that’s great, but for the other three, no matter how you dig into the numbers at this point, there are fundamental problems at the plate. If the Cubs get no positive offensive production from those three – or worse, get harmful, well-below-average production – the offense goes from potentially explosive to something much closer to average. And when Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo aren’t hitting, as they haven’t been on this road swing, the offense will look downright terrible.
Further, there wasn’t much in this road trip that heartened me about the state of the rotation. On the whole, they are pitching passably, but not impressively. Individually, you can feel reasonably good about Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks, but there are legitimate questions about Jake Arrieta and John Lackey’s results going forward for the same reason: they’re getting the Ks and not allowing the BBs, but why so much hard contact in the air? And as for the fifth starter spot, I think the Cubs are doing the right thing by giving Eddie Butler a good long look, but, after that first start in St. Louis, he hasn’t done anything to make me believe he’s a rotation mainstay at this point.
The Cubs probably have a great bullpen, but as we saw this past week, it doesn’t much matter if the offense and the rotation aren’t setting things up.
I’m still betting on the Cubs in the Central, but I’d be shocked at this point if they had a significant lead come August. As we noted yesterday, the Cubs are just very lucky that no other Central team has blown the doors off the thing.
It is reasonable to remain positive about this team overall. It is also reasonable to be worried about what is to come. As this trip showed, in the transition from a sweep in Los Angeles against a very good Dodgers team to a sweep in San Diego against a very bad Padres team: it can always get worse.