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.
- Team Record: 15-13
- Team Average: .228
- Team ERA: 3.33
- Top Hitter: Starlin Castro
- Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
- 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.
Perhaps 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.