Make no mistake about it, the Chicago Cubs are playing excellent baseball. In the month of June, they are 10-5 and are tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for first place in the National League Central. Their starting pitching is turning the page, the relievers are continuing their dominance and the hitters are crushing the ball.
They’re getting some good news on the injury front as well. Yu Darvish, who hasn’t started a game since May 20, is set to throw a simulated game on Tuesday. While it’s unknown when he will make his return, some analysts are saying it could be before the All-Star break. The throwing of a simulated game speeds up that timetable, even if it hasn’t been formally announced.
Despite all the good news around the team, the front office is still going to be looking at that crucial July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. However, this year is drastically different than the previous two. Put simply, the Cubs as a whole are unsure about what they are going to do. They could still make an offer for Manny Machado, but those rumors have died down since taking off in May.
General manager Jed Hoyer was asked about the trade deadline plans for the team, but he didn’t have a concrete answer. “Really, it’s not an evasive answer or a boring answer. It’s the truth.” Yes, general managers are supposed to keep it quiet in terms of what they are looking to do, but this one feels more genuine. Trade deadline deals are made when teams are looking for that final piece to truly make a run for October, but that isn’t the case with Chicago.
Looking at the Cubs team as a whole, there really isn’t a weak link. Manager Joe Maddon and the rest of the front office is aware of how much use the bullpen is getting. To combat that issue, the Cubs have created a shuttle to and from Triple-A Iowa in order to keep a fresh set of arms available at all times. It’s worked well so far, and there is no reason to think that it won’t pay off come October. In the past, moving lefty Mike Montgomery to the rotation from the bullpen would have spelled trouble, but that hasn’t been the case at all. Also, unlike 2016, the Cubs won’t have to trade for a dominant closer, as Brandon Morrow has performed that job stupendously.
Their starting pitching has looked better than before. Outside of Tyler Chatwood, who continues to miss the strike zone, each pitcher has been throwing well. Kyle Hendricks, who is in a little bit of a slump himself, is 2-3 since May 20, but his ERA is still in the mid-3.00 range. Jon Lester has pitched like an ace, going 5-1 since May 18 and throwing at least six innings in all of those starts.
Jose Quintana has been lowering his ERA drastically since his last dreadful start on May 26, dropping it from nearly 4.80 to just a touch over 4.00. Montgomery, who has been called upon to replace Darvish, has been masterful, starting four times and owning an ERA of 1.14, while raising the question of a six-man rotation once Darvish does return.
Despite all of Chatwood’s issues with walks, he still has an ERA barely over 4.00. If he can just fix his control issues, the Cubs will be in great shape. Maybe having a six-man rotation would take some of the pressure off of Chatwood, but that remains to be seen once Darvish does return. Putting it simply, the Cubs are rolling with four good-to-great starters and one serviceable one, and that’s not including their $126 million offseason signing in Darvish. If he comes back and can get past the 5th inning with no issues, the Cubs will be in excellent shape.
The lineup is coming around nicely, even with Javier Baez cooling off after his scorching start. Anthony Rizzo has continued his torrid hitting to raise his average from near .200 as late as May 16. Kris Bryant, despite his home run numbers being down, is still one of the best hitters in all of baseball. Jason Heyward looks completely revitalized, hitting over .300 since coming off the disabled list with a concussion.
Albert Almora Jr. is looking like a fantastic player who will make highlight reels on defense all season long. Wilson Contreras is still proving to be a force on defense, regularly keeping runners in check. Baez is still tied for the team league in RBI’s, and despite him being in a lengthy slump in June, can still change the game in an instant.
The Cubs might be a team that doesn’t do anything at the deadline, and will still improve. They have several members on the disabled list, including Darvish, Carl Edwards Jr. and Drew Smyly, who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery and is expected back sometime in August. They did lose Adbert Alzolay, the team’s number one prospect, for the rest of the season, but they still have several power arms in Triple-A Iowa that are waiting for their opportunity.
Yes, the trade deadline is six weeks away, and something can always change. As of right now, the Cubs might not have to do anything. They’re still playing fantastic baseball, they don’t have any glaring needs, and some of their injured players are close to returning. They’re in the middle of no-mans land, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.
What the Cubs should do is keep doing what they are doing. The truly scary part about this team is the fact that they still haven’t shown their true potential, and are still among the league’s best teams. If this team starts really showing what they can do, the rest of the National League had better be prepared.