The Chicago Cubs have given up a ton of ground over the last couple of months. Since starting the season 25-8 (record as of May 12th) and consolidating their status as the pre-season World Series favorites, Chicago have shown that they are merely one of the contenders – not a leading favorite. Heading into the All-Star break, Chicago are now 53-35, meaning that they’ve only gone 28-27 over the last two months.
Every game counts during the regular season and the lead Chicago built up in the early going is serving them well right now. Despite being an average team for a couple of months, Chicago still holds a sizeable lead in the NL Central. Currently, the front-running Cubs are seven games up on second-placed St. Louis. However, if they keep playing only a smidge over .500 baseball after the All-Star break, you have to think that either Pittsburgh or St. Louis will create a pennant race in the NL Central. On that note, the Pirates have already made up six games in the month of July.
What are the problems with Chicago? Firstly, they’ve been missing All-Star centerfielder Dexter Fowler of late. He has been having an outstanding season. However, he’ll be missing the All-Star game with a hamstring injury.
Fowler hasn’t appeared in a game since June 18th for Chicago. Due to that, the Cubs have been missing an improving defensive player in a key defensive position and someone one who has a season-to-date OPS of .881 (4th on the team).
But it should be pointed out that Fowler wasn’t playing all that well even ahead of going on the DL, at least not in the short term. In games played in June, he was just 12 for 58 at the plate for a .206 batting average. It’s interesting to note that Fowler’s dipping averages at the plate were strongly correlational with Chicago’s dipping winning percentage.
Consider the following two sets of stats:
Dexter Fowler: OPS of 1.010 on May 12th
Dexter Fowler: OPS of .881 now
Chicago Cubs: winning percentage of .758 on May 12th
Chicago Cubs: winning percentage of .602 now
One key for the Cubs is getting Fowler back and playing his best post-injury. But surely players returning from injury, even when they are green-lighted to return, aren’t always as effective as they used to be. That’s part of the reason, among others, as to why things don’t actually look good for the Cubs in my view.
There has been a disappearing act when it comes to starting pitching of late, including with Jake Arrieta. The ace starter is 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA on the season, however over his last five starts he’s 2-3 with a 5.27 ERA. John Lackey and Jason Hammel combine for a 14-10 record on the season. However, over their last 11 starts combined they have gone 0-6, and each player has an ERA over 6.00 during that stretch. Jon Lester’s ERA is 3.01 on the season, but it’s 5.34 over his last six starts.
Kyle Hendricks is the only starter that has consistently brought something to his starts of late. With a 2.55 ERA on the year and a 1.69 ERA in his last six appearances he is unfortunate to have just a 7-6 record on the season.
I think The Cubs needed the All-Star break more than most teams. It’s a time to rest, reboot, and to leave baggage from a bad stretch of baseball behind. The best thing the Cubs could do is show up for their next game on Friday like it’s Opening Day instead of what will be July 15th.