Although the All-Star Game isn’t the exact halfway breaking point of the the Major League Baseball season, the events of the first half foreshadow what could be one heck of an interesting stretch drive.
The Cubs find themselves in first place, but by such a narrow margin over every team in the National League Central it would be foolish to consider their position secure. The Cubs hold a precarious half-game lead over the Brewers and – in a shockingly dense race – just a four-and-a-half-game lead over the team currently in last place, the Cincinnati Reds.
This means just about everything is going to matter down the stretch for the Cubs, who just completed their first month with a losing record in nearly two seasons in June.
It’s a good baseball team, but it seems like this is a team that’s missing something. And it isn’t the easiest thing to put one’s finger on.
Considering the team has gotten solid efforts from its core of Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and real bounceback campaigns from Willson Contreras and, shockingly, Jason Heyward, it is hard to put your finger on exactly what the issue is.
The Cubs’ struggles with driving in runs in scoring position seem to go in and out, and the team’s lack of stability in the middle infield after Baez is a riddle the team hasn’t been able to crack. The sooner the Daniel Descalso experience ends, the better.
Pitching-wise, the starting rotation has been pretty good overall, minus Yu Darvish, who once again has been an enigma. But injuries to both Kyle Hendricks and now Cole Hamels have exposed the relative thinness of the rotation.
Once late free agent acquistion Craig Kimbrel gets himself fully into the swing of things, that should help smooth out some bullpen roles for the club – roles that have been fuzzy, to say the least, through the first three months of the season.
With this year’s rules in regard to the trade deadline changing with only one trade deadline rather than two, it will be interesting to see if the Cubs have any cards to play in regard to the shopping season.
In past seasons, Cubs have used minor league assets such as Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to supplement the major league roster. Those assets aren’t really there from them to use now, with only two Cubs prospects in MLB.com’s Top 100 prospect list (shortstop Nico Hoerner (No. 52) and catcher Miguel Amaya (No. 76)). Moves likely will be minor, if any at all.
Will that be enough? Who knows for sure? But it should certainly be an interesting watch.
As for the White Sox, first place is a thought for future seasons (they hope). But rarely will you find a team with more enthusiasm for its current status as a team that currently resides two games below the .500 mark.
A quick glance at the pitching staff numbers makes you wonder how in the world they are even remotely that close to the even-water mark.
Every single starter, excluding the shocking turnaround from Lucas Giolito, has an earned-run average above 4.50. Several have ERAs far north of 5.
Season-ending injuries from Carlos Rodon and Michael Kopech certainly have contributed to those ghastly numbers. But that also further accentuates the fact that the team likely will need to add arms other than those in the bargain bin if they truly want to make the next step.
Offensively, you never know what you are going to get from this team, but it usually will be somewhat entertaining to watch. After a few years of middling efforts, the development of Yoan Moncada shows why he was a highly touted rookie, and Jimenez is showing why volumes have been written about his potential.
And when you consider the recent Futures Game had a pair or two more rising stars in Nick Madrigal and Luis Robert, who seem poised to fill a pair of the more glaring problems in the White Sox lineup, look out.
Excluding the 2008 playoffs, there hasn’t been a time that either of them has been alive where the Cubs and White Sox have been postseason bound at the same time.
We aren’t there yet, but we’re getting closer.
Some wonder if the universe could handle a Cubs/Sox World Series. I’m willing to risk it to see if it can.