Cubs Month in Review – July 2016
To outsiders, all systems are normal for the Chicago Cubs thanks to the majors’ best record. Back home in Chicago, all hands are on a deck after the club stumbled to a 12-14 record. The starting pitching that was a strength all year took a serious nosedive, the bullpen continued to falter and the offense was still very inconsistent. Let’s take a look back at what we all hope will be just a blip in a remarkable season.
- Team Record: 12-14
- Team Average: .248
- Team ERA: 4.47
- Top Hitter: Anthony Rizzo
- Top Pitcher: Kyle Hendricks
- Team Record: 15-12
- Team Average: .222
- Team ERA: 3.39
- Top Hitter: Dexter Fowler
- Top Pitcher: Jon Lester
Perhaps the most troubling part of July, was the absolute collapse of the starting pitching. In 26 games, seven pitchers made a start and as a whole they pitched to a 9-10 record, 4.95 ERA, 1.29 WHIP with 134 strikeouts in 143.2 innings.
Of their main five, Kyle Hendricks was easily the best. In four starts, he won three games and gave up just three earned runs. His 1.16 ERA was almost four full runs lower than the next best pitcher John Lackey (5.06 ERA). Lackey paced the starters with 32 innings and 30 strikeouts in five starts and earned his first win since June 8. Jason Hammel tied Hendricks with three wins which was fairly impressive considering he gave up 16 earned runs in just 27 innings. Perhaps most surprising was how awful the staff aces Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester were. Lester lasted just four innings or less in three of his five starts and Arrieta’s 5.55 ERA and 1.48 WHIP are his worst total in a month since August of 2014. Adam Warren and Brian Matusz each made spot starts in July to help rest the starters. Warren fared best by giving up just one earned run and striking out six in five innings of work, probably his best work since a solid April. Matusz wasn’t as lucky as he gave up six earned runs in just three innings and found himself released the next day.
Compared to the starters, the bullpen’s 3-4 record, six saves, 3.71 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 94 strikeouts in 87.1 innings looks pretty good. The front office did some major shuffling in July by adding Aroldis Chapman, Mike Montgomery and Joe Smith via trades and bringing up veteran Joe Nathan. To make room, Clayton Richard and Joel Peralta were jettisoned and Justin Grimm was optioned to the minors.
The move for Chapman was panned by some due to his past legal troubles with domestic violence and the front office’s importance on having players with character. It remains to be seen whether Chapman’s past will affect the ballclub, but he’s started off well. In four appearances, he’s earned a save and struck out six in 3.2 innings. Montgomery has had a rough go in his four appearances giving up eight hits and three earned runs, but has chalked it up to learning a new team and a whole new set of catchers. Nathan seems to be still finding his footing, but has struck out four batters in just two innings of work. Joe Smith was just added at the deadline and hasn’t pitched with the team yet.
As for the rest of the bullpen, it’s been good to see a return to form for some this month. Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards Jr. and Justin Grimm have all had their share of issues. Strop made 11 appearances, won a game and gave up just two earned runs in 10.1 innings. Rondon notched five saves before being supplanted by Chapman, but has settled quickly into an eighth inning setup role. Edwards Jr. jumped into the stopper role previously occupied by Justin Grimm and in 11 IP struck out 14 batters and pitched to a 1.64 ERA. Before being optioned to the minors, Grimm did show signs of shaking his slump giving up no earned runs in eight appearances in low leverage situations. With those pitchers settling in, it’ll be up to Travis Wood to get back to where he was earlier in the season. With many more quality options, he probably won’t be called on as much and overuse is probably what led to a 4.09 ERA and 1.54 WHIP in 13 appearances.
While the front office made it a point to upgrade the bullpen at the deadline, it was a little surprising that they weren’t able to put together a deal for a bat as well. The offense has remained fairly inconsistent lately due to slumping veterans Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward. Fowler recently returned from a hamstring issue and has been eased back into the lineup, so the team hopes that his .207 average will rise as he gets more at-bats. Zobrist followed up his worst month as a Cubs with one he hit only .212 while batting mostly cleanup. He has started to show signs of life though, as in his last nine games he’s collected 13 hits. On the other hand, Heyward has been doing the opposite of Zobrist and followed his best month as a Cub with one of his worst. For July, Heyward put up an anemic .217/.291/.326 line with five doubles, one triple and one home run and one stolen base.
Also contributing to the fickleness of the offense were Addison Russell and Willson Contreras who at times carried the team on their backs or made no contribution at all. Russell actually led the team with 22 RBI in July and was second with four home runs. However, a .255 batting average and .308 on base percentage aren’t going to cut it as a middle of the order hitter. Contreras cooled off considerably from the month before batting just .231 and has earned just three hits in his last eight games. With veteran catchers, Miguel Montero and David Ross batting around .200, Contreras should be given a chance to bounce back.
The main bright spots of the offense have come from the usual suspects in Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and some surprises in Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella and Matt Szczur. Rizzo started some MVP buzz with a solid month batting .282/.336/.544 with ten doubles, one triple, five home runs and 21 RBI. Bryant didn’t drive in as many, but actually had a better batting line, smashing a .309/.425/.500. He scored a team-leading 20 runs and had five stolen bases with six doubles, four home runs, eight RBI and 15 walks. Baez has continued to impress by batting .325 with six doubles, four home runs, 12 RBI and four stolen bases.
Off the bench, Szczur and La Stella have shown a knack for delivering key hits in part time play. In just 29 at-bats, Szczur notched 10 hits and drove in three runs. La Stella was recently sent down due to having a minor league option to keep Chris Coghlan on the ball club. However, with La Stella batting .308 and Coghlan batting .167 this month, it’s only a matter of time before La Stella returns.
Last year, the Cubs rattled off two dominant months to earn themselves their first playoff berth in seven years. After a tumultuous month, it would be a real boon for baseball’s best team to reassert themselves as the team to beat. With a rebuilt and more effective bullpen and some improved hitting from some key veteran bats, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that could happen.
2016 Cubs Month in Review
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