Let’s Call That Rock Bottom and Start Over Tonight
There are a million different ways to underscore how bad things have gone for the Chicago Cubs (19-24) lately. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
- The Cubs are 7-17 since Drew Smyly’s near-perfect game in a 13-0 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers (we might call that the high point).
- The Cubs have won just two of their last ten games.
- The Cubs have lost five games in a row.
- The Cubs are a season-high five games under .500.
- The Cubs have been walked off FOUR TIMES already this season (just a nice little twist of the knife)
- The Cubs are now tied with both the Reds and Cardinals for the fewest wins in the NL Central
But what really caps off this sh*t stain stretch of baseball is what happened on Wednesday in Houston. The record books will remember it as just another one-run loss for the Chicago Cubs (they’re 2-9 in one-run games this season). But for those of us watching, we’ll remember it as the worst individual regular season loss in YEARS:
The Astros win expectancy dropped as low as 2.6% in the 8th inning of that game, before they marched back from a 6-1 deficit to hand the Cubs a complete an utter, gut-wrenching upset.
So can we call that rock bottom?
I’m not saying it CAN’T get worse from here. In fact, that’s probably the more likely outcome, sorry to say. But I am saying that’s the mindset I’d like to take, and that I’d like the Cubs to take. Normally, I can’t stand when terrible losses precede off-days. That’s just an extra day to stew in our misery, one more day before we get a shot at redemption. But I actually think this off-day was a necessary reset.
I don’t know about you, but I really needed a break from the Cubs after that. And I’m sure the Cubs couldn’t wait to get out of Houston. And, hey, I think there’s some reason to believe things can start looking up as soon as today.
On the injury front, the Cubs should get Nico Hoerner back this evening, and that’s HUGE. Hoerner is a cornerstone of this Cubs team with his Gold Glove defense at second base and stability as the leadoff hitter. It would also be nice to have both him *and* Chris Morel in the same lineup. That’s a lot of energy, which is exactly what the Cubs need.
The Cubs might also get Cody Bellinger back tonight, though we don’t know that for sure. But even if they don’t, at least Chris Morel will continue to have a clear path to playing time. In any case, while I’m *certainly* not blaming injuries for the Cubs recent downturn, the Cubs played too many games without Bellinger, Hoerner, and Yan Gomes (to say nothing of Seiya Suzuki, who missed the beginning of the year, or Chris Morel/Matt Mervis, who weren’t called up for a while). Basically, my point here is that if Hoerner and Bellinger come back tonight, we’ll at least have the best version of the 2023 Cubs available for the first time, well, all season.
But there’s also all those individual performances.
I know no one wants to hear about stats — at the end of the day all that matters is wins and losses. Let me repeat that: NOTHING MATTERS IF YOU’RE NOT WINNING. But take a second to run down some of the numbers/narratives of our key contributors and you’ll realize that this team has had a TON of best-possible-outcomes.
- Nico Hoerner (105 wRC+, 1.4 WAR): His defense at second base has been nothing short of Gold Glove caliber and his contact-approach has stabilized the leadoff position for the first time in YEARS. It’s the best version of Hoerner we’ve ever seen.
- Dansby Swanson (116 wRC+, 1.6 WAR): His defense at shortstop has arguably been even better than expected, he’s making a ton of contact, striking out way less often than he used to, and is even finding his power stroke of late. It’s as good as Swanson has basically ever been.
- Ian Happ (147 wRC+, 1.3 WAR): Although Happ’s defense in left field has been off this year and he hasn’t quite found his rhythm as a righty batter, he is an absolute on-base MACHINE (.422 OBP, 5th in MLB). The overall production is better than it’s ever been.
- Seiya Suzuki (134 wRC+, 0.8 WAR): After an understandably slow start, Suzuki has been an asset at the plate for the Cubs, with more walks, fewer strikeouts, and more power than ever.
- Cody Bellinger (122 wRC+, 1.4 WAR): Bellinger may not be back to his MVP-form at the plate, but he’s still been very productive, especially for a Gold Glove caliber center fielder. There’s a case to be made that he’s been one of the most valuable players for the Cubs this year.
- Patrick Wisdom (144 wRC+, 1.4 WAR): Who would’ve predicted this level of success from Patrick Wisdom? Not only does he already have 12 home runs, his defense at third base has completely reverted back to the high-quality version we saw in 2021.
- Yan Gomes (116 wRC+, 0.6 WAR): As far as I’m concerned, Gomes could be hitting 75% as good as he has and he’d still be hugely valuable … but he’s not! He’s striking the ball with authority and already has SIX home runs in just 91 PAs. Once again, it’s about as good as he’s pretty much ever been.
- Marcus Stroman (50.0 IP, 3.24 ERA): Out of nine starts so far, the Cubs de facto ace threw two clunkers and seven gems. He’s generating groundballs at an elite rate and is top-5 in barrels allowed.
- Justin Steele (55.1 IP, 2.44 ERA): Justin Steele is just outside the top-10 in innings pitched, but is still top-10 in ERA. He’s taken a legitimate step forward this season and has had just one bad game out of nine starts. He is as good as we have ever seen him.
- Drew Smyly (50.1 IP, 2.86 ERA): If it wasn’t for terrible bad outing to start the year, Drew Smyly might have a case for Cy Young candidacy himself. He is much better than he’s ever been and is doing everything his promise always said he could if he’d only stay healthy … which he has.
So let’s just call Wednesday rock bottom. Gobble up the space Thursday’s off-day provided. Hope that Hoerner and Bellinger return. And start over tonight in Philadelphia.