The Chicago Cubs officially ended the first half of their 2016 season on Sunday with a brutal 14-3 loss to the New York Mets, their fourth straight in a sweep at the hands of their 2015 National League Championship Series opponents. Chicago has lost 12 of their last 20 and Cubs fans around the world are in a panic. I'm here today to bring you one simple message: Relax...it's going to be okay.
The Cubs made some key acquisitions in the offseason with the signings of Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist. Some of Chicago's younger players like reigning NL Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and Addison Russell gained some valuable big-league experience, and Anthony Rizzo is the kind of consistent player you want leading a ball club. There were some questions about the Cubs' pitching staff coming into the year. How could Jake Arrieta possibly follow up his historic second half? Would Jon Lester bounce back after a sub-.500 record? Would the Cubs' three, four and five guys be good enough to keep Chicago competitive throughout the season?
If we went back to the beginning of the season and I told you that at the halfway point, the Chicago Cubs would have the best record in baseball, an eight-game lead in the National League Central and the best starting pitching staff in the Majors, would you have taken it and been ecstatic about it? Me too. And that's exactly what the Cubs have right now. At 51-30 heading into Monday's matinee with the Cincinnati Reds, they've got the best record in MLB (mere percentage points ahead of the Rangers and Giants, but we're taking it), an eight-game advantage on the Cardinals (and 10.5 on the Pirates) in the division and a pitching staff that has been outstanding, no matter what happened at Citi Field over the weekend.
As for the Chicago offense, if you look at some of the numbers, there's certainly a few mysteries in there. I mean, Jason Heyward is still batting just a little over.230, Jorge Soler was only hitting.223 before he went on the disabled list and Miguel Montero isn't even at.200. But that's the beauty of the Cubs' depth, especially since so many guys have hit the DL this season. Javier Baez is proving to be one of the best young players on this Cubs roster and has shown the ability to be able to play just about anywhere and really should be considered at some point to be the everyday third baseman, given Kris Bryant's ability to move around the diamond as well. Albert Almora is hitting over.300 since being called up and has shown some defensive brilliance as well. The Cubs' catcher of the future (or maybe even the present), Willson Contreras, has been smashing the ball since his arrival to the Majors and should only get better as time goes on.
Even with some of the offensive problems that the Cubs encounter from time to time, Chicago still knows how to put runs on the board and have done so in bunches on numerous occasions in the first half. They've hit double digits six times and have scored five or more runs 43 times. They've scored the third-most runs in baseball (423) and the Cubs are way ahead of the pack in run differential at +149, a full 49 ahead of the second-place Washington Nationals, despite the fact that they're only ranked 15th in team batting average (.254). And yet, the Cubs are ranked second in on-base percentage (.346), somewhat due to the fact that they lead the league in walks (347). They're also getting a little help from the hit-by-pitch numbers, which they also lead (53). They're tied for seventh with 108 team home runs but they're still striking out a bit as well, ranking sixth in that department (707). All this to say that the Chicago Cubs can and will continue to score runs....a lot more runs.
Look, I could sit here and throw numbers at you for days in a Moneyball-esque kind of way, but the point is this: The Chicago Cubs are seven games ahead of where they were a year ago at this point. They're about to have a nice number of players in the All-Star Game and they're still on pace to win 102 games. Again, if I gave you that number at the start of the year, would you have taken it? Barring a large number of injuries or a 1969-type collapse (sorry, Ron Santo), the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the playoffs for the second consecutive season and come October will have a real shot at winning this thing. But until then, just enjoy the dog days and stop worrying so much. I'm quite certain there will be another tough stretch or two in there somewhere and Cubs fans just have to hope that they can fight through it and be ready to get hot when they need to. Is the regular season important? Absolutely, especially when it comes to getting home-field advantage. But the Cubs going through some of these tough one or two-week stretches will only build more and more team character. Joe Maddon has got these guys relaxed and just enjoying the game of baseball and when the time comes to step it up in the fall, we just have to hope that the Cubs are ready to get hot...especially with the Giants playing well in an even-numbered year. Seriously, how strange is that trend with them?
I mean, it's the Chicago Cubs. What's the worst that could happen?
[Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]