Barring an improbable run from 14.5 back from the second Wild Card spot, the wins and losses don’t matter for the Cubs the rest of this season. So the Cubs 9-6 loss to the Cardinals yesterday is disheartening but not devastating.
What does matter are signs that the foundation pieces are doing well. And when you look at yesterday’s game from that perspective you get a mixed bag. Good on Antony Rizzo (2-4, 3-run HR) and Starlin Castro, and bad on Travis Wood.
The good: Castro has been miserable during July, hitting .222/.267/.370. He’s seen his average dip down into the low .280’s, which as strange as it sounds is odd to see. But maybe yesterday will be a jumping off point for him to get hot again. He went 3-4 with a triple. Being aggressive is in Castro’s baseball DNA and considering what he’s already accomplished in the majors he shouldn’t completely change it. But developing some more plate discipline would be huge, and it wouldn’t hurt to see his OBP not mirror his average.
That being said, in the “incredibly small, positive signs” category falls his first at bat yesterday. With a man on third and no out (a situation the Cubs seemingly always squander) Castro took five straight pitches to put himself in a 3-2 count. He then fouled off two Lance Lynn pitches and hit a RBI single on the eighth pitch of the at bat. That kind of patience in an important, run-scoring situation is encouraging. And yes, I realize how pathetic it is to fixate on a first inning at bat of a loss, but that’s what we have to work with right now.
The bad: Wood, on the other hand, continued a downward spiral, allowing 8 earned runs over five innings. I’m not going to claim to be a pitching expert, but I can point out that according to Fangraphs, Wood has been throwing his slider much less, and his fastball much more during this bad streak (for whatever that is worth). He’s allowing more balls to leave the park, as he’s given up 9 home runs over his last three starts (including 5 yesterday).
He’s definitely looked the part of at worst a five starter thus far, especially since he’s left-handed. But that great four start stretch from the middle of June to the beginning of July has me wanting more. It’ll be something to follow as the season drones on.