Cubs Month In Review – June

As our month in review series continues, we enter the halfway point of the Cubs season with the Cubs 11 games under .500 with a record of 35-46 and with a similar record last year of 34-45 at this point, on the surface it seems not much as changed for the Cubs at all. If you look a little deeper, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

2014
  • Team Record: 15-13
  • Team Average: .228
  • Team ERA: 3.33
  • Top Hitter: Starlin Castro
  • Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
2013
  • Team Record: 12-14
  • Team Average: .226
  • Team ERA:  4.67
  • Top Hitter: Nate Schierholtz
  • Top Pitcher: Kevin Gregg

Underneath the crummy overall record is a young team getting consistent production from their younger players led by eye popping months from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro and quality pitching headlined by trade acquisitions, Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta that saw them win five in a row to start the month. That hadn’t been accomplished since 2012. With the deadline looming and the Cubs posting a winning record this month, it seems possible that the Cubs can continue their solid play even when pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija are traded. Let’s see why.

PrintPerhaps the most impressive part of the Cubs record this month is the fact that this team just can’t hit. If it weren’t for Rizzo and Castro, the team would have posted a line of .208/.253/.326. To make matters worse, their pinch hitters to this point have batted a paltry .148 while their pitchers are batting .170. Awful. Speaking of awful, much has been made so far of Rick Renteria not playing kids Mike Olt and Junior Lake, young players who the Cubs need to know what they have in. Obviously, consistent at bats are necessary to get in an offensive groove, but neither Olt .057 or Lake .190 have really proven this month they deserve regular at bats. But then again neither have Chris Coghlan .246, Justin Ruggiano .237, Ryan Sweeney .212 or Nate Schierholtz .195 but at least their numbers this month are somewhat less terrible. What has not been terrible is the stellar months from Rizzo and Castro. It’s hard to say who has had the better month as Rizzo mashed to a line of .295/.373/.571 with seven home runs and 16 RBI and Castro has clubbed a line of .296/.350/.509 with four home runs and 21 RBI. The rise in wins for the team can also be attributed to the improved RISP both have made with Rizzo currently at .259 and Castro at .300. Another player having a good month has been Luis Valbuena posting an average of .275. Last season, the Cubs had similar production from their offense as they struggled to a .226 average, but the difference in record likely being from horrible pitching and an offense that saw their three best hitters in Castro, Rizzo and Alfonso Soriano hitting a combined .209. Says a lot about how important your top hitters and heart of your order is to the success of your season. If both Rizzo and Castro can continue to produce and some other hitters can get going, it’s feasible that this team can continue to stay in games for the rest of the season.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the month of June was the ascension of Jake Arrieta as the Cubs top pitcher for the month. Arrieta pitched to a 4-0 record, 0.92 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 39.1 innings and asserted himself as an anchor to a young rotation going forward. Another young pitcher, Travis Wood also had a solid month pitching to a 2-1 record and 3.19 ERA. The team’s main pitching strength continues to be a Cubs bullpen that has seen young pitchers with little Major League experience helping the Cubs post a 2.77 ERA where last year’s bullpen posted a 5.81 ERA. Leading the way for their success have been James Russell and Wesley Wright who have not given up a run and Strop, Ramirez and Carlos Villanueva who have only given up two runs this month. If the bullpen can keep up its rock solid play, the team has a good chance to stay competitive and not sink like a stone it did last season after the deadline. Something else to consider that suggests the July drop off might not be as great as last year comes from the fact that their best trade chip in Jeff Samardzija had an abysmal month. He managed just a 1-3 record, 6.00 ERA, 1.51 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 33 innings, yet the team still played their best baseball. Jason Hammel did pitch to a 3.45 ERA, but only had one win for the month. However, it really depends if Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada who are having excellent seasons so far in Iowa and likely the first calls up can keep it going at the Major League level.

July’s biggest storyline will be similar to what it has been the past couple of seasons, seeing what the Cubs can receive for their veterans by July 31 and seeing how the team copes with the loss of these players. With improved play from core hitters like Rizzo and Castro who are both primed to have career seasons and some excellent pitching performances from some young pitching like Arrieta, Ramirez, Wood and Hector Rondon leading the way instead of veterans, the hit may be lessened and there may be some hope after all that the rebuild is starting to gain some ground.

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Quote of the Day

"There are only two seasons ... winter and baseball." - Bill Veeck

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  • Richard Hood

    I do not think we will see Hendricks in Chicago till after Wada and Beeler get their feet wet. But other than that I totally agree with the assessment that the Cubs fall off will not be as bad as previous years.

    The second half of this year will be all about getting guys into positions that they can succeed at. I figure that in probably a month you will see a bunch of media pundits and fans calling for RR to play the guys brought up as the trades happen more. Remember the lessons we learned about Renteria early when those shouts start coming. For him and hopefully all the Cubs staff it is about putting the kids in positions to succeed and get their feet wet before you throw them in the deep end.

    Alcantara, when he gets called up, is going to struggle to adjust (he does it every level for a bit). You may see him being in a late game pinch hitting role against pitchers that the staff think he has a good chance against first before you see him in the game every day. He may only start one or two games a week but still end up getting 15-20 PA’s that week. This is also going to be necessary. If he can adjust then we will see more of him in the games before September.

    Just be patient and trust the process because with all these guys there is a plan and that plan is not to languish them on bench just because they are kids. Success at the major league level is incremental and about being able to adjust. So expect kid gloves on the guys that do get called up so that they have some time to learn to those type of things.

    • BigJonLilJon

      Not that I’m disagreeing, but as I read the last line “expect kid gloves on the guys that do get called up” – I thoughts pictured players like Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Ron Santo, Lou Gerhig, etc – they’re all rolling in there graves the way players are coddled today.

      • Richard Hood

        Everyone of the guys you just mentioned spent at least a half of a year being bench/part time players. So do not confuse the reality with myth. There use to be a system in place where kids were basically extra bats off the bench and valets for the established players so that they could learn at the big league level without having to cost the team victories. Very few rookies up until the integration of the Negro leagues played right off the bat.

        Gerihig is probably the best example. Remember Wally Pip? Gehrig was a bench player until he got hurt and the kid stepped up and kept getting better.

      • Richard Hood

        Everyone of the guys you just mentioned spent at least a half of a year being bench/part time players. So do not confuse the reality with myth. There use to be a system in place where kids were basically extra bats off the bench and valets for the established players so that they could learn at the big league level without having to cost the team victories. Very few rookies up until the integration of the Negro leagues played right off the bat.

        Gerihig is probably the best example. Remember Wally Pip? Gehrig was a bench player until he got hurt and the kid stepped up and kept getting better.

    • Patrick_Schaefer

      That’s why they should bring him up now while he’s locked in.

      • Richard Hood

        He is still going to have to adjust to a new league. It does not matter if he sees the majors this week, next week or next year locked in at AAA does not mean anything when compared to guys that can throw 95 plus and consistently hit the black. Hitting wise there is a little difference between AAA and the majors. Pitching wise the amount of guys that can throw hard and control it is a lot to take in.

  • Patrick_Schaefer

    Agreed on Olt and Lake struggling a lot the difference between the two is Lake has had some success @ the Mlb level. Right now they both look lost though. I think Olt definitely needs sent down. I know they don’t want to bring up Bryant or Baez and neith are on the 40 man roster but Valbuena can play 3b and Vitters can back up 3b and 1b and play LF. Watkins can play every position on the diamond but pitcher and catcher and is having a very good year at AAA and has been an obp machine this year. Alcantara can backup up short and play 2b or CF. With Watkins playing the other and can backup everything. All 3 are already on the 40 man roster. I think in the long run Watkins is a utility guy but why not. Who is really blocking these guys Schierholtz, Ruggiano, Coghlan, Barney, and Sweeney. All have been bad this year.