Cubs Month in Review – June 2016
Almost halfway into their season, baseball’s best team has started to show cracks in their armor. The month of June has been quite the rollercoaster for Cubs fans. The club has suffered through injuries to key players, ineffectiveness in their bullpen and prolonged slumps from key veterans. Nonetheless, the young team handled it all with aplomb and stay well ahead of their division rivals. Let’s take a look back at June.
- Team Record: 16-12
- Team Average: .251
- Team ERA: 3.12
- Top Hitter: Anthony Rizzo
- Top Pitcher: Jon Lester
- Team Record: 14-13
- Team Average: .250
- Team ERA: 3.15
- Top Hitter: Chris Coghlan
- Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
In the month of June, the Cubs seemed like they had split personalities. Of the nine series played, the club won six of them and swept the Pirates and the Reds in the process. They lost a key series to the Nationals that had a playoff atmosphere. They also lost six of seven games combined to the Marlins and Cardinals, the latter of which swept them.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to their split personalities came in a meltdown by their bullpen. For the month, the 3.98 ERA by the group doesn’t seem too bad, but for much of June it hovered well above an ERA of 4.00. This helped put many games out of reach for a struggling offense and in some cases made two to three run leads insurmountable.
What has made the Cubs bullpen so successful over the last two years is success of the trio of Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm. That hasn’t been the case unfortunately. Grimm has suffered through a catastrophic month. In 15 games, he gave up 15 hits and 10 earned runs for a 10.38 ERA and 2.65 WHIP. With their seventh inning stopper down, Joe Maddon has come to rely on Travis Wood in his place and may have been relying too much on him. Like Grimm, Wood pitched in 15 games, giving up just two earned runs and his 13 innings was tops among relievers. Strop, Rondon and Trevor Cahill were also relied on heavily. Rondon had just four saves in nine appearances with a 2.70 ERA. In 11 games each, Strop lost a game, but struck out 15 batters in 11 innings while Cahill struck out 14 in 11 innings.
The bullpen also saw a lot of turnover with Adam Warren and Gerardo Concepcion optioned to the minors and Clayton Richard sent to the disabled list with a blister issue. Warren was largely ineffective with a 5.69 ERA and will be stretched out for starting duty while Concepcion was fairly decent in a three-game stint, but probably needs more seasoning. In their place, the team called up Spencer Patton, Carl Edwards Jr. and veteran Joel Peralta. Peralta has been an absolute disaster giving up two earned runs in just 1.1 innings and at 40, is probably done. Patton has shown flashes, but hasn’t been nearly as impressive as Edwards Jr. who in four games and 5.2 IP has eight strikeouts and a 1.59 ERA.
With all the bullpen’s struggles, the Cubs starting staff continued to keep their squad in games and pitched to a 2.75 ERA. The best of the five has been far and away Jon Lester. In six games, he posted a 4-0 record, a miniscule 1.41 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 44 strikeouts in 44.2 innings. His strong month has been mostly buried by Jake Arrieta coming back to earth. In five starts, Arrieta wrestled with a mechanical and mental issue that led to a 3-2 record, 3.54 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 36 strikeouts in 28 innings. A month like that would be a great one for most starters and fans should remember that they’ve been spoiled a bit by Arrieta’s talents. Even so, his next couple of starts will be watched closely by coaches and fans alike. Much like Lester, Kyle Hendricks also had a great month that was lost in Arrieta’s supposed struggles. In six starts, he was 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA with an uncharacteristic for him 38 strikeouts in 36 innings. John Lackey and Jason Hammel also continued to excel, but were victims of bad luck in the record department combining for a 3-5 record in 10 starts between them.
Another influence on the Cubs “down” month has been an inconsistent offense. Injuries to Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler and Tommy La Stella stretched the team’s depth and caused many of their mainstays to struggle and try to do too much. Most notably have been Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, David Ross and Miguel Montero.
With Fowler not leading off, Zobrist stepped into the role seven times and after batting over .400 in May, Zobrist slipped to a .221/.339/.368 line with five doubles, three home runs, seven RBI and one stolen base. Russell also had a solid May, but also struggled with consistency. He batted just .214 and struck out 26 times, but has continued to show a clutch bat. Heyward probably had his best month in a Cubs uniform batting .257 with four doubles, three home runs and nine RBI, but the team has needed more from their biggest free agent signing and especially with Fowler not setting the table. Montero and Ross’ offense has disappeared last month to hit a combined .160/.274/.309 with four home runs and 12 RBI.
In an effort to revive the offense, the front office called up young phenom prospects Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras. Both players have acquitted themselves well and have shown good signs for the future. Contreras has been the most indispensable and besides catching has filled in at first base and left field when needed. He’s batted an impressive .325/.426/.600 with two doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI while hitting mostly cleanup. Almora Jr. has been no slouch either, playing outstanding defense and batting .288 with six doubles, one home run and six RBI in Fowler’s absence.
The two prospects are not the only ones making noise on offense as Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Baez essentially carried the offense on their backs all month. Rizzo’s slow start ended in June as he smashed an impressive .378/.467/.744 line with nine doubles, eight home runs and 21 RBI despite missing a few games to back soreness. For much of the month, Bryant was erratic in the lineup, but a historic 5-for-5 game with two doubles and three home runs against the Reds turned on a switch for him. He’s finished the month with a 1.058 OPS that included nine doubles, a team leading 11 home runs and 23 RBI. June also was the coming out party for Baez who has shown some wizardy in the field and at the plate. He batted .292 with six doubles, six home runs and 21 RBI.
With a record of 16-12, it’s hard to fathom this being a disappointing month for most baseball teams. However, the Cubs have been so dominant that the bar has been raised very high and any low moments have been causes for panic among the fan base. The real test for this Cubs team is how they respond in July to June’s idiosyncrasies and what moves the front office may make to shore up the bullpen.
2016 Cubs Month in Review
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