Analysis

Why the Cubs Can Overcome a Poor First Half

It’s safe to say that nobody expected this to be the Cubs’ situation at the All-Star Break.

I mean, if you had told me before the season started that on July 12 the Cubs would be 43-45 and five and a half games behind the Brewers for first place in the National League Central, I would have laughed in your face.

There’s no way around it — the Cubs’ first half was a massive disappointment. It was just an utter mess. Nobody performed like they should. The entire team, at times, seemed to be self-imploding in bouts of fiery explosions that made it hard to cheer for the reigning champions.

The first half sucked, but it is over.

The Cubs’ subpar performance to this point has an absurd amount of fans slamming the panic button, when the reality is that the season is far from over, and the Cubs will most likely still win their division and continue play into October. This isn’t just blind optimism, this is the logical truth. Sure, it helps to look on the bright side of things, but continuing to believe that the Cubs will eventually reclaim first in their division is completely rational, and there are quite a few reasons as to why.

1 – Talent, Pure and Simple

Lest anyone forget it, the Cubs are a stacked team. They sure haven’t played like it, but it’s true. You may not remember, but nearly this exact squad won the World Series last year. They are a fantastic group of baseball players. Just because they haven’t been performing as well as they did last year doesn’t mean they can’t.

And this year, the Cubs can escape with a crappy first half because their division is horrible. The fact that they’re only 5.5 back at the break is a miracle, as it’s a small deficit that they can easily overcome. For the first time in a long time, the N.L. Central is the worst in Major League Baseball, and the Cubs can take advantage. Nobody else is talented enough to dominate, so, should they begin to win like they have in the past, the division crown is theirs for the taking.

2- The Power of Hot Streaks

Source: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

At the All-Star Break in 2015, the Cubs were 47-40, 8 games behind the first place Cardinals. Even later in the season, they stood at 51-46, 11.5 games back in the Central (no, these records aren’t as bad as their current one, but they’re comparable). They were coming off of being no-hit for the first time in 50 years, and the entire season seemed to be falling apart. Then, because baseball, they promptly reeled off winning streaks of six and nine, and proceeded to win 21 of 25 games.

They ended that year 97-65, making the playoffs as the second wild card team (this year, because of what I discussed previously, that record would be more than enough to win the division and avoid the wild card play-in game altogether).

And then they got hot again, shutting out Pittsburgh in the wild card game and defeating the team with the best record in baseball, the hated St. Louis Cardinals. As you may remember, the next series didn’t go so well, but the point is that the Cubs snuck into the playoffs in the last spot, but made it to the league championship series. Even if the Cubs don’t have a record as good as they did in 2015, should they manage to find a way to win their division, they can easily get hot and go far.

3 – A Soon-To-Be Complete Roster

It’s been over two months since the Cubs have had a fully healthy starting rotation. On May 7, Brett Anderson went down with a back injury that landed him on the 60-Day D.L., and the starting pitching has been incomplete ever since. Kyle Hendricks suffered a hand injury and John Lackey got plantar fasciitis (essentially just a fancy way of saying “pain”) in his right foot, and Eddie Butler and Mike Montgomery have stepped in. While the two have done well, Montgomery is much more useful in the bullpen, as the only other late-inning lefty that Joe Maddon has at his disposal is Brian Duensing, and Butler could use some more development before he’s entrusted with a start once every five games.

Hendricks and Anderson are both making rehab appearances in the depths of the Cubs’ minor league system, with Lackey only expected to be on the D.L. for a short while.

As if the pitching wasn’t banged up enough, the Cubs spent the majority of the first half without key offensive starters as well. Jason Heyward found himself on the D.L. twice, and Ben Zobrist has missed chunks of time as well, not to mention Kyle Schwarber‘s brief demotion.

What we will be seeing in the first week or two following this break is a completion of the Cubs’ active roster. For the first time in months, the team will be without stop-gaps and will be playing at full strength.

4 – Trades

Source: Jon Durr/Getty Images North America

Though it may not be essential, there’s a good chance that Theo Epstein and his crew will make some sort of a deal before the July 31 trade deadline to provide aid to the team. Since the whole Miguel Montero fiasco, there’s been multiple connections made between the Cubs and veteran catcher Alex Avila, who’s having the best year of his long career, slashing .299/.423/.535 with 11 homers.

Avila is currently in Detroit, and he may not be the only Tiger the Cubs are pursuing; recent reports have claimed that Theo already offered Schwarber for Tigers’ starter and reigning A.L. Rookie of the Year, Michael Fulmer. The Cubs’ team that we see now is not going to be the same team that we’ll see in a month. Whatever trades or deals are made, improvements are going to happen.

There’s no reason to panic – yet. The season is far from over, and, given that, despite a poor first half, the Cubs are still the defending champs, things will most likely turn out alright in the end.

So I advise you all to take a deep breath and relax, and save your nervous energy for the playoffs.

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