MLB

Padres Series Sheds Light on Current Concerns for Cubs

Angel Hernandez ringing Anthony Rizzo up on a ball three inches out of the zone to end Sunday’s game summarizes a painfully average week for the Chicago Cubs.

As they have since the all star break, the Cubs played mediocre baseball last week. Chicago split two with a hot Pittsburgh Pirates team at PNC Park before coming home and splitting a four-game set with San Diego, the worst team in the National League.

This capped a 3-3 week and the Cubs are now 8-9 since the all star break. Though this sue major league baseball and any team can win on any given day, splitting four with the Padres is less than satisfactory. It’s also worth noting that Chicago noticeably worked hard to salvage a split. The Cubs won the middle two games of the series 5-4 while losing 6-1 in the opener and 10-6 in the finale.

It is as clear as ever that Chicago is in need of returning to full health. With eight games remaining against the second place Milwaukee Brewers, the Cubs need to take advantage of teams like the Padres and Royals, who Chicago opens a three-game series with on Monday.

The Cubs aren’t doomed nor are they about to spiral out of control. Chicago still holds the best record in the NL despite having three key players (Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, and Brandon Morrow) on the DL. 

However, the San Diego series sheds light on some series concerns for the Northsiders.

For one, it appears as if Jon Lester has suddenly lost it after coasting into early July. Lester took the mound against the Cincinnati Reds on July 8th with a 2.25 ERA. Six starts and nearly one month later, he now holds a 3.44 ERA.

Lester was putting the Cubs in situations to win ball games better than any arm in Chicago’s rotation. Now, the veteran simply isn’t doing so. Lester’s ERA is 7.34 over his last six starts and he has only thrown one quality start in that span.

“I’ll figure it out,” Lester said after the game. “I’m in a little rut right now, I’ll keep grinding. Like I said, you’re not always going to have all five (starters doing well), but at the end of the day we have to do a better job. That’s been on me really since the break. I have to do a better job and I haven’t.”

Given that the starting rotation hasn’t lived up to preseason expectations, the bullpen has been relied on heavily. Most of Chicago’s righty relievers have lived up to the task. However, the Cubs’ left-handed relievers have struggled.

Brian Duensing has been absolutely pitiful. Duensing’s ERA has skyrocketed to 7.34 and he has allowed five earned runs over his last 3 ⅓ innings. After getting off to a great start, Randy Rosario has come back down to earth. The young lefty allowed four earned runs on Sunday. Justin Wilson, who has been shaky since the Cubs acquired him before the 2017 trade deadline, has allowed four earned runs over his last three innings.

With Mike Montgomery in the starting rotation, Chicago truly has no consistent lefty relievers. Finding a trustworthy lefty reliever won’t be solved by Chicago getting guys off of the DL. With that in mind, this could be the Cubs’ biggest issue heading into the postseason.

And even though Chicago’s starting rotation put together a solid week, it still looks a little shaky. If that continues, Joe Maddon will have to keep digging deep into his bullpen. The question then arises of what will happen if the righty relievers start to look overworked? Well, nothing good. 

Now that all of the current concerns are out of the way, we can look at the bright side. Cole Hamels looked solid in his Cubs debut against the Pirates on Wednesday and Chicago desperately needed that. Hamels threw five innings in which he didn’t allow an earned run and struck out nine. It also appears, that despite his age, Hamels still has his velocity. This became evident in the first inning when Hamels threw a 96-mph fastball to David Freese, the fastest pitch he’s thrown in over two years.

And while Kyle Hendricks was a bit inefficient again last week, it was nice to see Jose Quintana and Montgomery pick up the slack. Quintana allowed one earned run over six innings while Monty did the same over 5 ⅓.

Switching gears to offense, Javier Baez has begun to hear “M-V-P” chants at Wrigley Field. Even though winning the NL MVP might be a stretch, the compliment has been well earned by “Javy” this season.

Baez continues to amaze fans on defense and the base paths. In addition, Baez is now batting .300 overall after going 10-24 (.417) at the plate last week with three home runs and seven RBI. Baez’ 24 home runs and 86 RBI this season are both career highs. Javy seems well on his way to a 30 HR-100 RBI season.

Cubs fans are also liking Bryant-fill-in David Bote more and more each day. Bote is now hitting .328 overall and has made some pretty savvy plays on defense. Specifically, when he gunned out Cory Spangenberg at home on a grounder to third with a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning.

There hasn’t been nearly enough credit given to Ben Zobrist as well. Though he hasn’t been an everyday player, “Zobs” is now quietly hitting .310 after going 7-18 last week.

The biggest thing to look for from the Cubs next week is consistent starting pitching. The status of previously mentioned injured players should be monitored as well. Also, hopefully for Cubs fans, a lefty reliever can finally put it together.

Chicago heads into the first full week of August baseball one game ahead of the Brewers in the Central. Chicago travels to Kansas City for a three-game series with the last place Royals beginning on Monday. The Cubs wrap up the week in Washington with the 57-54 Nationals, who have won eight of their last 11 games.

 

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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