NOTE FROM AL: Naveen has been traveling abroad, so this recap covers the last two weeks, instead of just last week.
The Cubs went 7-6 over the past two weeks. After dropping three of four to the Cardinals, the team won two of three from the Astros, Brewers, and Mariners. After the games of June 30, the Cubs sat in fourth place -- 3½ games ahead of the Brewers and 15½ games behind the Pirates.
Runs Scored: 59 | Runs Scored per Game: 4.54 | Runs Allowed: 57 | Runs Allowed per Game: 4.38
Competition Adjusted Runs Scored: 1.00 | Competition Adjusted Runs Allowed: 1.08
The Cubs were equivalent to the average offense and 8% worse than the average pitching staff. After struggling against the Cardinals -- the major's third best pitching staff by runs allowed -- the Cubs offense was much more lively during the following three series. The bullpen struggles continued as Gregg blew his first save of the season, and Camp continued to struggle even after his rehab stint.
Cubs starters pitched 84 of the 112 innings played over the past two weeks, or 75% of the innings pitched, which is up from the previous week's 65%, and higher than the major league average of approximately 69%.
The Three Most Important Plays
6/28 Bot 8, man at 2nd base with one out, 4-3 Cubs: Raul Ibanez triples off James Russell to tie the game, resulting in a -.436 WPA. The Cubs had a 69.2% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 25.6% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
6/29 Bot 9, man at 2nd with two outs, 3-2 Cubs: Endy Chavez hits a run-scoring single off Kevin Gregg to tie the game, resulting in a -.431 WPA. The Cubs had a 88.1% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 45.0% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
6/29 Top 11, man at 1st with no outs, 3-3 Tie: Alfonso Soriano hits a home run off Oliver Perez to give the Cubs the lead, resulting in a .367 WPA. The Cubs had a 58.2% chance of winning the game prior to his at bat, and a 94.9% chance of winning the game after his at bat.
Most Valuable Cub Hitter
Ryan Sweeney: While he has only played 44 games, Sweeney has put up the best wOBA (currently at .372) of his career. Though he was initially signed to essentially be a fourth outfielder, Sweeney found himself starting on an everyday basis as soon as DeJesus hit the DL on June 15th. Since then, Sweeney has hit to the tune of an .871 OPS while playing an average center field.
The biggest driver behind Sweeney's career-best performance is his .232 ISO, which is well above his career .106 ISO. Some of this could be driven by luck: his 12.1% HR/FB rate is above his 3.7% career rate. That said, he's also making better contact: his 6.1% IFFB rate is below well below last year's 19.1% rate and below his career rate of 9.5%. While his HR/FB rate is due for some regression, Sweeney could still be a quality fourth outfielder for the next couple of years given that he's only 28 and could thus still improve. It's unfortunate that his injury will put off any further production from him for a couple of months.
Most Valuable Cub Pitcher
Matt Garza: Garza pitched tremendously well against both the Astros and Brewers, likely increasing his trade value over the course of the two starts. In the 15 innings that he pitched, Garza struck out over a batter per inning and threw only 199 pitches, or 13.3 pitches per inning. That said, Garza did face two relatively weak lineups: the 26th-ranked Astros, and the 15th-ranked Brewers who were without Ryan Braun or Carlos Gomez at the time. While it is reassuring that he can still pitch at the level that he used to prior to his injury -- his 3.83 ERA and 3.89 FIP are in line with his career 3.84 ERA and 3.99 FIP -- the fact that he missed so much time due to said injury is concerning and will definitely serve to dampen his trade value.
Least Valuable Cub Hitter
Starlin Castro: Castro has struggled mightily this season and questions abound regarding his future as the Cubs long-term shortstop. While many have focused solely on this season, his slump may have actually started last year -- over the last full calendar year, Castro has posted a line of .250/.299/.373. Furthermore, his struggles have not been limited to just his offensive performance, as he is also posting the worst defensive season of his career.
The underlying numbers aren't promising either. Castro is walking less frequently (3.4% versus a career rate of 4.9%), striking out more frequently (18.3% versus a career rate of 14.6%), and swinging and missing more frequently (8.4% versus a career rate of 7.6%). That said, Castro is still only 23, so there is plenty of time for him to figure it out, but this is definitely not the type of season most had expected from the young Cubs shortstop.
Least Valuable Cub Pitcher
Edwin Jackson: After a couple of good starts in early June, Jackson is once again struggling. In his past two starts, against the Brewers and Mariners, Jackson surrendered nine earned runs in 10⅔ innings.
Many have discussed both Jackson's tendency to underperform his peripherals and his unlucky BABIP and LOB%. While his ERA is likely to improve over the course of the rest of the season, there are some signs for concern. At one point earlier in the season, Jackson's K% was close to 22%, but that has now fallen to 19.8%. After inducing swings and misses at a 12.2% rate last year, Jackson's rate is now at 9.7%. Furthermore, Jackson's average fastball velocity has fallen from 93.4 mph last year to 92.9 mph this year according to PITCHf/x. Jackson will improve, but whether his best days are ahead of him is questionable -- while he is only 29, his arm has logged ten seasons' worth of innings and he has averaged 203 innings per season over the past four seasons.
The Cubs are in the middle of a three-game set against the Athletics; after that, they'll come home to play a three-game series against the Pirates.