The Chicago Cubs are in Colorado, and more than likely hoping that they can catch a break with some help from mother nature tonight, as rain is in the forecast in Denver where the Cubs are scheduled to open a series with the Rockies this evening.
After a weekend sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees left them bruised in more ways than one, the Cubs are just one game over .500 and facing a handful of serious dilemmas ahead, including the bullpen being worn thin on Saturday and Sunday evening, and Monday morning to be exact. On Saturday night Brett Anderson left the bullpen with 8.2 innings to cover after allowing five runs on six hits in the first inning before being lifted, and then placed on the 10 day disabled list.
After the bullpen covered the 8.2 innings in the losing effort on Saturday evening, the Cubs were hoping that Jon Lester could help give the bullpen a rest, and he did that by tossing seven innings, allowing only one earned run on Sunday evening. Unfortunately for the Cubs, they ended up playing into the 18th inning and into the early hours of Monday morning. The bullpen ended up covering 11 innings on Sunday night, putting them up to 19.2 innings of work in their last two games.
After jumping on a plane, and heading to Colorado in the early hours of Monday morning, they were left with a tremendously short turnaround for their game with a pretty good Colorado Rockies ball club tonight. Short on bullpen arms, short on effective starting pitching this season, especially as of late, and short on offensive support as of late, the Cubs are in a position to fall into an extended skid as they begin their current road trip.
Three games in Colorado, with a 20-12 Rockies team and then three games in St. Louis with a Cardinals team that currently have won seven of their last ten games, and sit at 16-14, a half game ahead of the Cubs in the National League Central standings. The Cardinals are fully aware of the Cubs current struggles, and will be ready to pounce on an opportunity to add to those problems this weekend.
Sure, the Cubs have plenty of time to get rested and healthy as the weeks and months progress, but the current skid is bringing issues that we already knew existed to the forefront, and exposing the Cubs as human.
The Cubs need help in the rotation, at least one more starting pitcher, potentially two. Brett Anderson was not the answer that they were hoping for, and no harm in trying, but it’s time to move on. Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery would be the next in-house options, and maybe one of those two can stick at the end of the rotation. If it’s Montgomery, then the Cubs will need another arm in the bullpen to replace him.
More than likely, one more arm will be needed in the bullpen around the trade deadline regardless of whether or not Montgomery moves into the starting rotation. Most contenders need to add an additional bullpen arm for the stretch run after weeding out the weak link in their current reliever corps anyways.
If the Cubs comb the trade market for a starting pitcher, they will be looking for one with contract control, or an existing long-term deal, rather than a rental player such as Aroldis Chapman in 2016. A pitcher like the Athletics’ Sonny Gray would be on the low-end of the cost spectrum, but the high-end of the risk spectrum, given his recent struggles and injury issues. Other options could include a guy like Chris Archer, who would cost considerably more than Gray, but would come with much more assurance than Gray.
The unpopular, but most sensible move for the Cubs, both clubs for that matter, would be none other than Jose Quintana. Besides for the bone-head mentality that two clubs in opposite leagues that have no actual bearing on each others playoff aspirations shouldn’t trade with each other because the fans would not like it, there’s really no reason why this deal can’t be a realistic possibility. Quintana is cost-controlled, young, and one of the better starting pitchers in all of baseball. The White Sox need young bats to match their surplus of arms, and the Cubs have them.
It’s really a no-brainier when you remove the crosstown rivalry stigma, and both teams should definitely take a walk down that road and at least have some dialogue, but that’s about as far as I will delve into that scenario today.
Outside of the pitching staff, the Cubs offense ranks in the middle to the bottom of the pack in most offensive categories, and outside of a two week period where the offense went on a tear, they have struggled to back a shaky pitching staff like fans hoped that they would. The Kyle Schwarber lead-off experiment was a cute idea in the spring, but it was never going to workout the way the Cubs had hoped it would. Put Schwarber back into the middle of the lineup, put him behind Bryant and Rizzo and give those two some protection and allow them to see some better pitches and shake their early season blues.
There are a couple things that the Cubs can do at the top of their lineup, the first being, hit Jon Jay number one on the days that he is playing center field. Jay has the batting average and OBP to carry the role, and has experience in the lead-off role with St. Louis. When he’s not playing, Ben Zobrist could spend time in the lead-off spot, so could Albert Almora or Jason Heyward. Basically anyone but Schwarber, even if that means that they handle the position on a “by-committee” basis until they find what works.
The next week or so will be interesting to watch for the Cubs, and could force the envelope on some of these glaring issues that they have. For more on the Cubs three game series with the Rockies, be sure to check back later for our series preview.