... But Can an Ugly Series Sweep Be a Referendum on the Buy-Sell Decision?

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… But Can an Ugly Series Sweep Be a Referendum on the Buy-Sell Decision?

Chicago Cubs

When the Cubs dropped the opener of the critically-important Brewers series this week – doing so in historic fashion with that 10-run 8th inning – I wrote about how “Not Every Game is a Referendum on the Buy-Sell Decision.” That’s just true. But, as today’s headline implies, how about the whole series?

Because, I gotta tell you, if a single late-June series *CAN* make up your mind on the buy-sell decision at the July 30 Trade Deadline, this was the series to do it.

Consider:

1. The series, which wasn’t THAT early in the year, took place against a division opponent, and the only division opponent ahead of the Cubs in the standings.

2. Those standings had the Cubs just 3.0 games back, which means a sweep in the other direction would’ve left the two teams tied. A sweep, as it was, left the Cubs 6.0 games back. A six-game swing against the team you’re chasing in the division. That’s enormous.

3. The series underscored so many of the issues the Cubs are already facing – and project to face in the months ahead – from the strikeout-heavy offense to the deeply thin rotation to the far-too-heavily-used bullpen. It’s not as if you can just hand-wave the worst parts of the series, because the worst parts of the series are the same things we were already worried about. (Plus you had an injury to Ryan Tepera and the further erosion of Tommy Nance’s performance, which was quite a combination blow to the bullpen within a few day span when you think about it.)

4. The series also underscored a lot of what makes the Brewers a good team, from the exceptional rotation to the dominating bullpen. Their offense has been brutally bad for most of the year, but over the past month, they’ve seen Christian Yelich return, Luis Urias start hitting, Willy Adames dominate after the trade, and now maybe even Keston Hiura breaking out. The Brewers have played a hilarious schedule over the past month, but what if they also turned a corner? I don’t see how you could have left that series feeling like the Cubs are clearly the better team in the long run.

5. Speaking of which, you have the Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo injuries. What do we make of those in the context of the month ahead? Surely they are an additional reason to be worried about what’s to come, given that they couldn’t even play in the most important games of the season yet (save for Bryant in the first game).

So, against that backdrop, did this series – this one series in a season full of ’em – make a substantial difference on the buy/sell decision for the Cubs at the Trade Deadline? Yes. It did. How could it not?

But as much as I would tell you today that selling just became a heckuva lot more likely this week, I’m not necessarily saying the Cubs should or would start the selling today. They don’t even have to make the decision today. Shy of a team calling you up with an over-the-top offer right now for a reliever you could part with, the trade market just isn’t going to be developed until later this month anyway.

Thus, what do you do right now if you’re the Cubs? Well, you certainly brace for the possibility of selling, and you perhaps make decisions with an eye on that possibility developing. But you also see what happens over the next couple weeks. You see where things stand at the All-Star break, making no rash decisions in either direction in advance of that date, and you evaluate from there. You re-assess the roster. You re-assess the projections and the schedule. And then, hopefully, you’re in a position to commit to a path coming out of the break.

Maybe you’re a few games closer, and some buying opportunity presents itself at that time. Maybe you’re a few games further out, and your selling path is crystal clear. A few doors have been closed at this point (buying early aggressively, for example is a no-go now), but most of the others remain open. Let’s see how guys heal up. Let’s see what the offense does over the next couple weeks. Let’s see if the bullpen stabilizes. On and on.

But, yes, what happened this week in Milwaukee has made eventual selling the far more likely path when we get into that final week of July. I would go as far as to say that is now the presumed path, whereas a series win or a series sweep probably would have left us with the other presumption, even in the face of the various issues.

As an aside, I will leave you with one thing, which might be fantastic or annoying, depending on your perspective. The folks at Tankathon have a helpful listing, regularly updated, with the remaining strength of schedule for all teams based on the constantly-updated winning percentages of the teams remaining on their schedule. Know which team has the easiest schedule in all of baseball as we sit here today? Yup, it’s the Cubs, at a combined opponent winning percentage of .472. The Brewers, at number 19, are at .495. That difference, stripped of all other context, would amount to a projected difference of about two wins between the teams. So, hey, it’s kinda like the Cubs are only 4.0 games back?


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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.