It’s definitely been an up-and-down season for the Chicago Cubs. From their rocky, nerve-racking start back in March to a time when they were lookin’ “red hot” and “scary good” back in May. Now we’ve got one of the closest races in the MLB happening in the NL Central: The Cubs are just two games ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and only one win away from the surging Milwaukee Brewers. And we can expect that those two clubs won’t back down any time soon. As the end-of-July MLB trade deadline approaches, here’s what the Chicago Cubs look like and what we can expect (maybe) in terms of trades.
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Following the All Star Break, the Cubs looked like a team on a mission. They won seven out of nine of their homestand games and increased their lead over the Brewers from .5 to 2 games. Even more important perhaps from a division standings point of view, they won their series against the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 and swept their series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Furthermore, the Cubs batting has been solid. Despite being down in all three games against the San Diego Padres, they were able to come back and win two of them – once with a grand slam by Anthony Rizzo and once with homer by Javier Baez that knocked in three runs. Robel Garcia has been doing good things for the lineup too.
On another very much-needed front, Yu Darvish is finally feeling more comfortable on the mound and performing more like the Cubs expected when they signed him to a $126-million, six-year contract. Since the All Star Break, he’s had two scoreless starts. After months of heavy criticism, Darvish says he’s feeling “120 percent” – no longer experiencing any pain from the Tommy John surgery which has held him back since joining the Cubs – and he’s winning the praise (and hopefully trust) of his teammates and management. Some think this is perfect timing and hope Darvish might soon help the Cubs make a run...
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Second baseman Addison Russell appeared to be off-form (to say the least) during the Cubs game against the Padres. He made lots of mental mistakes – dropped fly balls, got muddled in his baserunning and thrown out at home, that kind of thing. Speaking of, this team has 71 fielding errors so far this season… which puts them on track to break last year’s 104. According to Cubs Manager Joe Maddon, Russell has a lot of things he needs to get straightened out. Since Chicago has benched their other second base option, Daniel Decalso, Russell will either need to get comfortable playing in the majors or the Cubs might seek help from outside.
Of course, they’d love to have former starting second baseman Ben Zobrist back, but he hasn’t played since May and we’re still unclear on whether or not he’ll return at all this season. Zobrist has been out because of a “personal matter.”
One guy who is (or was?) back is reliever Carl Edwards Jr. He returned from a shoulder injury for just one outing against the Padres. But after an unimpressive pitching performance, the Cubs sent him immediately down to Triple-A Iowa. So much for that!
Another pitcher who’s not doing so well? Pedro Strop struggled against the San Francisco Giants this week, losing 5-4 after the reliever took over in the eighth inning and allowed three runs. That’s the 17th blown save by the Chicago bullpen this season.
One final worry: The Cubs are bad on the road. There’s no sugarcoating it. We’re talking a miserable 18-27 record when they’re away from Wrigley. Oh, and they’re just starting a nine-game road trip this week…
Oh man, there’s a lot of speculation going on about what deals the Cubs might make before July 31st! One thing we know for sure is that Cubs President Theo Epstein is facing some serious pressure to get this team postseason-ready. The Cubs have already acquired a third catcher in Martin Maldonado. But the question is, where else will they decide to shore up the team? Will it be in the bullpen, on second base, or in the batting lineup? More left-handed pitchers? A reliever? A better leadoff batter?
The Detroit Tigers’ 27-year-old outfielder Nick Castellanos has been mentioned as a perfect fit for the Cubs lineup. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jarrod Dyson is another name in the mix. Both have the batting abilities and a defensive skill set that the Cubs could be interested in. It’s possible that Chicago will use them to replace the underperforming Albert Almora or Kyle Schwarber.
Pitching wise, word on the street is that the Cubs are also looking at the Tiger’s right-handed reliever Shane Green. Right now, they’re putting in Steve Cishek at the end of nearly every game and he could use some support.
The Cubs might’ve played well at home, but now they’re off on a nine-game road trip to take on the Giants, Brewers, and Cardinals. The latter two series present the Cubs with an important chance to finally take a discerning lead within the NL Central. But you can bet the Cards and the Brewers will be looking to do the same…
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