The Chicago Cubs have been largely middle-of-the-road for most of the season. They would rally off several wins, only to lose the next couple to remain around the .500 mark. This was a little worrying, as many analysts were predicting the Cubs to return to October rather easily.
That hasn’t been the case as the Milwaukee Brewers have been trailblazing the National League, staying in first place in the Central Division. While the Cubs can easily handle the Brewers, they are 7-1 against them this year with five shutouts, they can’t say the same against the rest of the baseball, going 22-20. That is starting to change though.
Chicago is riding a three-game win streak, is a season-high seven games over .500, and their team is starting to put it all together. While the starting pitching is still worrisome, the offense is starting to click and the bullpen is doing a phenomenal job bailing out some of the weaker starters.
The offense in particular has scored 33 runs over their past five games, leading to a 4-1 record. They’ve had three consecutive games of scoring 7+ runs, and that has been led by the resurgent Anthony Rizzo. Since coming off the disabled list in the middle of April, Rizzo hasn’t really been hitting. His average has been around or below the .200 mark as recently as May 22.
However, during this five-game offensive barrage, Rizzo has had 15 at-bats, and recorded eight hits, bringing his average up to .236 on the year. Considering that on May 22, it was .204, it’s a welcomed sight. He has also helped out his power numbers, hitting home runs in consecutive games for the first time since early May. He’s recorded seven RBI in the past five games, and looks to be more comfortable at the plate.
The timing of this is important, as the Cubs are about to enter a stretch of 26 games in 27 days. If Rizzo’s hot streak continues, Chicago can easily make up the ground that they appeared to have lost during the beginning months of the season. During that stretch, they play their division rivals for half the time, playing three each against the Brewers, Cardinals and Pirates, with four against the Reds.
It’s a little early to say that this is a crucial point in the Cubs season, but it’s looking like that more and more. While the efforts of Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have been great, the results from Jose Quintana, Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish haven’t been great. Chatwood can’t find the strike zone, walking 45 batters in 48.1 innings. Quintana is too inconsistent, with a questionable outing right after a great start and sporting an ERA near 5. Finally, Darvish can’t seem to get out of the 5th inning, and has already hit the disabled list twice, with the most recent stint due to a sore triceps.
For now, the Cubs are riding a high streak. The offense is starting to fire on all cylinders, the bullpen is continuing to dominate, and the victories are starting to come in. This does present a warning though; an overtaxed bullpen will start to falter unless the Cubs starters not named Lester or Hendricks start to find some consistency.
As bad as it seems, this upcoming stretch is going to set the tone for the rest of the season. But these are the Cubs; they’re going to find a way to come out of it on top. If there is a silver lining in this, it’s this. The Cubs haven’t been a complete team yet this year and they are still second in the division. Once they find a way to pull it together, the rest of the National League will be put on notice.