By: Alex Patt
As of June 2nd, 2021 the Chicago Cubs are in first place. A month ago, they were in last.
After concluding a 9-1 homestand (the one freaking loss was the game my friend and I attended), which included a sweep of the San Diego Padres, they hit the road and continue a tough schedule in the month of June. We are seeing a real test for this team unfold. Their journey to this current spot they has been an interesting one.
It was only a month ago when I was ready for this season to be over already and see a rebuild begin. The team seemed dead with little energy and little hope. Suddenly, everything started to click. Starting pitching began improving, the offense began to strike the ball with authority, and the bullpen would start an unbelievably dominant stretch. From four games under .500 and dead last on May 2nd, to nine games above .500 and in first on June 2nd.
All of this happened with injuries to the likes of: Nico Hoerner, Anthony Rizzo (no IL stint), Jake Marisnick, Jason Heyward, Matt Duffy, David Bote, Justin Steele, and Alec Mills. It has been “next man up” on the roster as guys like Patrick Wisdom, Sergio Alcantara, P.J. Higgins, Rafael Ortega, Kohl Stewart, and Nick Martini have had to step in. Who on Earth would have guessed Wisdom would be slugging home runs like he has so far? Stewart shutting down the Padres offense? Crazy.
Of course where would this team be without MVP candidate Kris Bryant? Feels like he is getting on base every day and making a big impact. Putting up a .996 OPS and being one of the highest fWAR players in baseball going into Thursday shows how good he has been.
This past month has honestly been the most fun I have had watching Cubs baseball since the second half of 2017 when they overtook the Brewers and won the division. The swagger this team has right now and the energy in Wrigley Field the past week at 60% fan capacity has been awesome. Memorial Day was special seeing so much buzz in the ballpark when the Cubs cruised to a 7-2 win over the Padres. Every pitch, every hit, every catch, the crowed reacted with such enthusiasm. Even the 95-win team in 2018 did not (in my opinion) have special feelings like this at any point, nor did the 2020 division-winning team…though to be fair no fans were in the stands and that “season” almost felt fake.
I mean that insane Javier Baez play in Pittsburgh…come on! How often do we stuff like that. I’ve had friends who know little to nothing about baseball talk to me about it because they saw it on the news and thought it was one of the funniest things they had ever seen. It has been a stretch where everything is going right for this team.
The question is…will this last? Is this team for real? Is it just a hot streak?
Look, I have had SO much fun watching the Cubs play baseball the past month. Games are becoming can’t miss again. I do not want to take anything away from this team’s extraordinary play. However, I cannot honestly say I am ready to call them legit contenders JUST yet. In the mix? Sure. Legit? Eh…
Not to be Debbie Downer, and I hope I am wrong…I just want to see some of this sustained over the season. I am not sure we will see that. The offense being historically bad the first few weeks was not sustainable, and the talent is legit. I think them having a good offense throughout the year is certainly possible. Yes there will be streakiness, but that is how this team has always been and always will be as long as they are together. Healthy Bryant, Rizzo, Javy, Willy etc. are mashers and can put up big numbers. My main concern is the pitching.
The rotation has been overall solid the past month, but can we really keep rolling with little velocity and contact guys? Outside Adbert Alzolay (who legit looks good) the rotation does not miss bats. The rotation’s 7.51 K/9 is lowest in the majors, as is their 0.8 fWAR. They also are in the lower half (19th overall) in innings pitched. Kyle Hendricks is looking better after his rough start and he always comes around, but Jake Arrieta has been “meh” at best, Trevor Williams has made a few good starts but has had many struggles, and Zach Davies has been better recently but he will never blow anyone away. Hard to make a run over a season and into the playoffs with that type of starting rotation. I also fear the bullpen’s hard work and need to pitch 4-5 innings regularly will see them burn the out by August. Not so worried about Craig Kimbrel, who has been unreal at the closer spot, but others who have less experience managing those types of workloads in the majors.
IF the Cubs are going to continue to succeed this year and maybe look at a possible run, they might need to shuffle a few things and hope for the best in several areas. They need to add another reliable starter. If they can get a solid arm that can miss some bats, along with Hendricks and Alzolay being efficient then maybe it can work. Hopefully Arrieta can find some more consistency and get into a groove of serviceability. The Cubs also cannot afford any more serious injuries, but those are harder to control as they just happen unfortunately. Overall a lot is going to have to continue to go right as we move along.
The next few weeks will say a lot, starting with their series in San Francisco. If they continue to play well, then maybe I will buy more into them, if not then I can say it was fun while it lasted. I think this team is confident and focused, which is great! Again I hope my doubts are wrong…I SO hope they are wrong. I just do not want to suddenly change my stance until we get closer to mid-season/trade deadline.