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.
So, about that unannounced two or three-month absence. Yeah, we don’t want to talk about it, but we’re sorry (for whatever that’s worth).
But moving right along. A lot has happened during our leave, some good and some bad, so it’s probably best to quickly run through and recap some of the more prominent highs and lows. Just looking at the standings, the Cubs were in last place as of the last post (4/11) and today we sit one rung above the cellar. That’s what we call progress.
Certainly that 12 game losing streak in mid-May was a terrible thing, and significantly contributed to our current sub-standard position in the standings. But there have also been bright spots. A solid stretch of games heading into the All Star break, plus a sweep of the Diamondbacks to kick-0ff the second half of the season, has provided glimmers of light in an otherwise dark and dreary abyss.
Speaking of the All Star break, the Cubs had two representatives, Starlin Castro and Bryan LaHair. As surprising as it was for a team with a record as poor as the Cubs to have two All Stars (and this doesn’t even account for Ryan Dempster and his NL-leading ERA), I was even more surprised that both Cubbies actually got to participate in the Mid-Summer Classic. The reason for my shock was the fact that Tony LaRussa decided to don his transition lenses one final time and manage the NL squad. It just seemed so out of character for him to do anything within his discretion that might be perceived as an act of kindness towards the Cubs. I don’t know, maybe he was too caught up in screwing over the Brewers and Reds players in the selection process that he just simply forgot about the Cubs. It didn’t really matter though, as the game was well in hand by the time Castro and LaHair made their uneventful appearances. One final thought. I was more than a little disappointed that LaHair was not named as the late substitute for the home run derby (Andrew McCutchen got the nod instead). I just thought it would have been a classy move, given that this might very well be the only All Star appearance of his career.
And finally, probably the biggest talking point of all was the call-up of franchise savior Anthony Rizzo on June 26. Since his promotion, Big Tony has been hitting at a .350 clip, while adding 4 homers and 10 RBIs. It has certainly been a wonderful start and the transition has been seamless. So seamless in fact the move required the Cubs to exile their All Star first baseman (LaHair) to right field. Watching Rizzo’s progress over the second half of the season will be one of the most interesting story lines to follow.
With the trade deadline looming, look for the Cubs to be active participants. And look no further than the The RedLine Roundup for coverage and analysis.