Players have filtered back to town after an extended all-star break of four days, hopefully refreshed, recharged, and ready to kick it into high gear. The first half was somewhat disappointing for fans as the Cubs only managed to barely creep above .500 with a 47-43 record.
I have managed to erase most of the last three weeks from my memory bank and I hope the players have also. Not exactly stellar baseball being played by the North siders and way to reminiscent of the way their season ended last year.
However, a new start presents itself for our beloved and they are going to have every chance to blow open this race starting today against Pittsburgh. 45 of the remaining 72 games will be against Central division foes. That is 63% of the final schedule to be played against the teams you need to beat to win the division.
The Cubs have done fairly well against the Central the past three years but so far this year their record matches the overall mediocrity of the season to date and that will not win you a title. Look, somebody in this division is going to get hot and on paper the Cubs have the best team.
Expect Theo and Jed to make some bold moves in the next two weeks to shore up their bench and to find a left handed specialist to come out of the pen. I also expect Joe Maddon to manage like his job depends on it, because it does.
The Cubs have ten games remaining against each of the Reds and the Cardinals, who they have owned in the past. This year the Reds have treated them like a rented mule and that needs to change. The Cubs have only managed to win three out of nine meetings so far against them. On the flip side they have won six out of nine versus our foes down south.
Where it gets scary is they have twelve games remaining against the Pirates and have only managed a 3-4 record so far this year against them, and the Pirates are much improved. Half of the remaining games against them are in September so you hope they have a nice lead by then.
The really important games are against the Brewers and they have thirteen left versus them, including seven in ten days from August 30 – September 6. When that series is over at Milwaukee on the 6th, they won’t see the Brew Crew the rest of the season. You do not want to leave it up to other teams to help you win the division so getting, and holding, a lead will be critical before the last three weeks of the season.
The other unsettling schedule situation is that they have thirteen games left versus the NL West, and they have not fared well against them so far this year. Seven of those games are against the suddenly on fire San Diego Padres who give the Cubs fits over the years. Luckily they also have six against the Giants who will be a shell of a team after the massive expected sell-off of players this month.
I have said this for many years, and it really holds true this year, win each series and you win the division. They can’t get caught up in needing a 12 game winning streak, they need to focus on winning each series only, and things will take care of themselves.
I would like to see their fundamentals get better as the rest of the season progresses too. No more throwing to the wrong bases, missing the cutoff man, running themselves out of innings, or hitting weakly into double plays. How about some small ball for a change? How about actually driving in guys in scoring position once in a while?
If I see Jason Heyward in centerfield again this half, I may have to punch Maddon. Get a line-up and ride them to a division title. Enough of a new line-up each day. Let your starting pitchers go as hard as they can for at least six innings and then turn it over to the settled bullpen. Cishek, Strop, and Kimbrel should be solid going forward. If Morrow comes back that will be a major plus.
They survived the first half of bad baseball and injuries and now it is time to make hay. The teams chasing them are going to be playing them and as long as they win more then lose they should be able to fend everyone off. Get to the playoffs and anything can happen.