MLB

Cubs Maintain Place in NL Central After Up And Down Week

In a very pivotal week as far as the NL Central standings go, the Chicago Cubs will return to Wrigleyville in essentially the same spot they were in when they began their six-game road trip.

It was a bit of an up and down week for the Northsiders, who split six games against the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Chicago began the week with exactly what it needed, a win at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Though it took 11 innings to earn that 7-2 victory over the Brew Crew, the Cubs were obviously okay with that considering it ascended them into first place for the first time since May 1st.

It seemed the Brewers had no answers for the Cubs, who had taken eight of the first nine games between the two clubs this season. However, Milwaukee then gave Chicago a taste of its own medicine by shutting the Cubs out twice in a row and moving back into first place.

The Cubs bounced back nicely by taking the first two against the Red Birds in convincing fashion. But with a chance to sweep St. Louis and regain a half-game lead in the division, the Cubs couldn’t muster up a victory.

While a 3-3 week is nothing to be proud of for Joe Maddon’s club, the week also doesn’t raise much concern given the respectability of both clubs the Cubs played last week.

Let’s take a look at both the most significant positive and negative takeaways from Chicago’s “average” week.

What Went Right:

Photo courtesy of en.wikipedia.org

  1.  It’s Been Three Weeks Now and Jason Heyward is Still Hot.

It seems that since I’ve started writing these weekly recaps that Jason Heyward has been a tough out for opposing teams. So, I’m not sure if J-Hey deserves credit or if I do.

But, seriously, Heyward is by far the hottest hitter on the Cubs and has really shown no signs of slowing down. By looking at the boxscores, it may not appear that Heyward put together another week to be proud of. After all, the right fielder only went 4-20 at the plate in five games.

However, Heyward’s hits were all very meaningful and provided more evidence that he has truly turned a corner at the plate.

In Chicago’s 7-2 victory over Milwaukee on Monday, Heyward went 3-6 at the dish and undoubtedly helped carry the Cubs to a hard-fought win. Heyward gave Chicago new life in the game when he knocked in Ben Zobrist from second on an 8th inning game-tying single.

Even more impressive than the situation that Heyward came through it is who he came through against. Heyward’s clutch single came off of lefty reliever Josh Hader, who sports a 1.18 ERA. Heyward is also hitting only .195 against lefties this season, while Hader has been basically perfect against left-handed bats. A lefty batter has gotten a hit off of Hader just three times in 39 at-bats this season, good for an opponent batting average of .077.

Heyward then followed that at-bat up by crushing a double into the left-center field gap to plate two runs in the 11th inning. This made the score 7-2 and pretty much put the game on ice.

That was one of two times that Heyward prematurely raised the W flag for the Cubs this week. The second occurrence came during Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Cardinals when J-Hey launched a 410-foot homer to right to give Chicago a three-run lead.

Photo courtesy of chicago.suntimes.com

  1. Randy Rosario has been a pleasant surprise out of the Pen.

The Cubs claimed Rosario in an under the radar move last November from the Minnesota Twins. Rosario pitched only twice during his rookie season in 2017 and was far from making Chicago’s 2018 opening day roster.

Most Cubs fans probably had no idea Randy Rosario was even on the team before he got called up in mid-May. But, if you still don’t know who the lefty reliever is, it’s time to learn. Rosario has been nothing short of lights out since he first put on a Cubs hat.

In 13 ⅔ innings with the Cubs, Rosario has let up only one earned run. The Dominican Republic native has thrown at least two innings in four of his 10 appearances as a Cub.

Last week was more of the same for Rosario, who Cubs fans were calling the “GOAT” on Twitter after his performance against Milwaukee on Monday night.

Without Rosario’s efficiency, Chicago wouldn’t have been able to last until the 11th inning to rally against the Brewers. The reliever breezed through the 9th and 10th innings by retiring all six batters he faced in only 24 pitches.

Rosario also came in twice during the Cardinals series and posted more zeroes. Overall, Rosario threw three hitless, shutout innings last week and only allowed one baserunner. The reliever’s ERA is now 0.66.

Photo courtesy of cbssports.com

  1. Addison Russell is Finally Maintaining a Respectable Average.

Going into the week, the Cubs’ shortstop was hitting a solid .273 at the plate. Now, after going 6-19 (.316) in six games last week, Russell has elevated his batting average to .277.

While these aren’t Hall of fame or even all-star numbers, this is a really good sign for Addy. Russell came into the MLB as one of the top prospects at the time and was expected to be a high-average hitter with some pop.

Though the pop and ability to drive in runs has been there, the average has not. In three seasons as a pro, the highest average Russell has hit for in a season was .242 in 2015. In fact, until 2018, the latest into a season that Russell was hitting at least .270 overall was April 28 of last season. Russell also raised his average into the .280s briefly last week, something he’s also never been able to do later than April.

The Cubs’ shortstop particularly did damage against Saint Louis last week. Russell began the series by going 3-4 with two doubles in a 13-5 win. Then, he lifted his third home run of the season to left in game two of the series.

We all know what Russell can do on defense. But, if he is able to keep looking solid at the plate, it makes Chicago’s lineup even more dangerous.   

What Went Wrong:

  1. Offensive Inconsistency.

A prime example of how statistics can be misleading is provided when taking a look at Chicago’s offense this season.

The Cubs are averaging an NL best 4.96 runs through 68 games in 2018. One would think there would be no reason to complain about the bats. And I’m not saying that Chicago doesn’t have a talented offense, because it’s obvious they do.

However, last week was a perfect example of how truly inconsistent the Cubs’ offense is. It’s as if the bats either don’t show up or they explode for 10+ runs. Last week, Chicago scored 13, seven, and six in their victories. But, in the three games they lost, the Cubs were shutout.

This is not a recent development either. In fact, Chicago has failed to score more than three runs in 32 games this season. That is 47 percent of the Cubs’ games so far in 2018. Now that doesn’t sound like one of the best offenses in the NL does it?

On the other hand, Chicago has scored at least seven 22 times and has erupted for double-digit runs in 10 games. A number closer to their average of five each game would definitely benefit the Cubs.

The biggest issue within Chicago’s offensive consistency has been its ability to do damage with runners in scoring position. On average, the Cubs strand 4.12 RISP per game, the highest mark in all of baseball. Last week, Chicago stranded an absurd 34 RISP.

Photo courtesy of nbcsports.com

  1. Javier Baez’ Slump and Injury.

Throughout his career, Javy Baez has been an extremely streaky hitter. His stellar defensive play and immense power at the plate have made him a fan favorite in Chicago. His plate discipline, or lack thereof, has been extremely frustrating for Cubs fans though.

Baez started off the season hot and still leads the Cubs in both RBI (46) and home runs (14). However, lately, the downsides of Javy have started to get the best of him.

After hitting .347 in April and .274 in May, Baez is hitting a lowly .227 at the plate through 15 games this month. Baez has struck out 17 times in June while only recording seven base hits.

It’s been ugly and it just got a little worse. After continuing to slump this week, Baez got beaned in the elbow by Cardinals rookie Jack Flaherty on Sunday and was forced to leave the game.

Slumping or not, Baez is someone the Cubs want in their lineup. Joe Maddon is definitely holding his breath with MRI results on the way.

Photo courtesy of chicagonow.com

  1. Bryant Still Can’t Snap Out of Funk.

After a pitiful series against the Brewers in which Bryant went 0-9 at the plate, it seemed he had broken out of his slump at Busch Stadium.

Bryant launched a home run on Friday to break the longest “homer-less” streak of his career. That was also part of Bryant’s first two-hit game in nearly one week.

But, Chicago’s third baseman was basically a no-show in the two games thereafter. He collected just one hit and struck out four times against the Cardinals in the final two games of the series.

Bryant is still hitting .281 overall and there is no reason to think that he won’t snap out of this dry spell any time soon. However, the biggest area to be concerned about is Bryant’s power.

Bryant has homered only nine times this season while knocking in 33 runs. For a guy who has hit at least 26 homers in each of his three professional seasons and has knocked in nearly 100 runs twice, this is far from ideal. Bryant is also slugging at a career low this season (.487).

While Bryant’s intentions were to change his approach in order to become a better all-around player, it would be encouraging to see him also maintain the power he is capable of providing. 

Author Profile

Eddie Herz
Eddie Herz
Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago, Eddie Herz is a senior journalism major at Colorado State University. He has been a beat reporter for CSU's newspaper, the Rocky Mountain Collegian, since he was a freshman. Eddie has also contributed to the BTPowerhouse.com, a sister website of SBnation. Eddie will be the CSU Football beat reporter for the Rocky Mountain Collegian this coming Fall.
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