With a day off before the Chicago Cubs welcome the Cincinnati Reds to Wrigley Field for a three-game series, it’s clear our Cubbies are hot in more ways than one. Last weekend’s home series versus the Minnesota Twins saw heat indices inside the park reach nearly 110 degrees Fahrenheit. While the boys in blue suffered little more than Albert Almora Jr.’s swelter-induced leg cramps on June 30, the Twins had three men brought down. Eddie Rosario, Bobby Wilson, and Max Kepler all exited early, receiving intravenous fluids to recover from extreme game conditions.
The standings have been even hotter than the weather. The Cubs have won six games in a row, and seven of their last nine, since being skunked by the same Reds club in a four-game, late June sweep. The team will be looking to avenge the Great American Ballpark massacre at the Friendly Confines, with game one starting at 1:20 PM tomorrow afternoon. There’s good reason to believe the Cubbies will in fact fare better against their last place, National League Central Division rivals this time around. Right now, everything seems to be working – on the mound(ish), at the bat, and in the field.
While sweeping the Twins last weekend was enjoyable, as winning always is, Cubs pitching left much to be desired. The squad allowed a total of 25 runs in the three-game series from June 29 to July 1. In today’s Chicago Tribune, reporter Mark Gonzales wrote of the beleaguered staff:
“The need for starting depth is glaring, especially in light of the inconsistencies of Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood and Jose Quintana….Any contribution from Yu Darvish should be perceived as a bonus, considering the time he has missed and the time needed to rebound from his triceps strain.”
It was the Cubs’ bats that saved them in the Twins series. Happily, this week’s two-game set with the Detroit Tigers featured better quality starts from Hendricks and Quintana, and good bullpen work from Pedro Strop. Mike Montgomery, who has been a solid rotation filler throughout the team’s mound struggles, will take the field tomorrow to continue making the case that he deserves a regular slot.
While the Cubbies search for starter and bullpen reliability remains a challenge with an improving outlook, there’s no mixed messages at the plate. Simply put, the bats are swinging, and making all kinds of contact. It’s not hard to win six games in a row when the players collaborate for 56 total runs. As of the time of this writing, the Chicago Cubs have eight regular guys hitting .280 or better. In reverse order, they are Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant (who should be coming off the DL any minute now), Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Javy Baez, Jason Heyward (finally looking worth that huge contract), Ben Zobrist and of course, Albert Almora Jr.
Almora, whom Joe Maddon refuses to start everyday, to the great frustration of many fans, is currently hitting .329. That’s good enough for second place in the National League, a mere two points behind Scooter Gennett. This guy should be making a trip to the All-Star Game. But I digress…
Finally, the Cubs recent defensive game is cause for great optimism as Chicago takes on the Reds at home this weekend. We are gifted with some of the best fielders in baseball. On June 20, Michael Cerami of Bleacher Nation wrote:
“Take the ‘Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF)’ stat, for example. It measures a player’s defensive value relative to league average and adds in a positional adjustment to compare defensive value across multiple positions…9-10 runs of DEF (above or below the league average of ‘0’) is equal to one win. So by that measure, the Cubs are not just the best defensive squad in baseball this season, but they might just owe as many as four wins to their defense.”
The baseball fundamentals are strong as the Cubs approach the mid-season break. As opposed to this same time last year, we look like a team ready for a strong playoff chase. And we stand ready to vindicate June’s humiliation in The Queen City.