It’s funny how things work. When we looked at the schedule, it was pretty clear that June was going to be a tough stretch. It was a month filled almost entirely with teams expected to compete in the National League. Not only was the opposition good, but there were two pretty gnarly looking road trips. One of those already happened. One of them will finish the month. But the Cubs started June with wins on June 1 and 2 against the Padres. Hey, the Padres were picked by a lot of people to win the NL! That’s good, right?
After those first two wins, the Cubs dropped three straight and four of five on that tough trip to San Francisco and San Diego. But then the Cubs again added back-to-back wins against the Padres. Voila! It wasn’t always pretty, but they were 5-4 through the first nine games of the month. But wait, there was more! The Cubs then swept the Cardinals. That’s generally a pretty rare occurrence no matter what the relative performance level of the two teams is on any given season.
So the Cubs headed to New York, having started this very difficult looking month at 8-4! Following a fantastic May, this team was starting to look like it might even have a chance at the best record in the National League if it could get healthy and maybe catch a break or two along the way. But then New York happened. It’s not just that the Cubs lost three of four. It was the Cubs' two biggest problems rearing their head at the same time.
One of those two problems glares brighter right at the moment, but the other might be more frustrating. The first of those problems is that the starting rotation was already underwhelming and then it suffered injuries to Trevor Williams and Adbert Alzolay. With Jake Arrieta looking every bit the part of the fading, aging veteran, the Cubs are basically left hoping that Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies can win every single time they pitch. It’s funny, I saw a really respected internet Cubs writer point at the Yu Darvish trade as a particularly large problem right now. Don’t get me wrong, I loved having Yu here. But let’s be fair, Davies has been one of the better pitchers in the rotation. Even with Yu, the Cubs would be somewhere between two and three starters short of a rotation, depending on how good Alzolay might get by the end of the year after he gets healthy. It’s hard to win consistently when you only expect a good start maybe two out of every five days.
There’s no question that right now the starting rotation is the most glaring problem. Also, though starting pitching is never cheap, at least that is a place where you know you can improve on the trade market. The other problem for the Cubs though dates back as far as the 2017 season. The offense has basically disappeared again. They saw a couple of good pitchers and now they are struggling more days than not to string even two hits together. The offense has now gone five straight games without scoring a run without the benefit of a homer. The game before that, they had one two run inning, aided by an error, and otherwise were shutout the rest of the night.
Every team struggles to hit good pitching. But this team just goes into funks and really has trouble coming out the other side. The glaring problem is that it’s not evident exactly how you’d go about improving the Cubs offense. Certainly, everyone would rather see less of Eric Sogard. I don’t know how or why he’s become SO hated. He’s been an effective pinch hitter and decent defensively. He’s actually one guy performing about the way I’d expect someone who’s basically the middle infielder at the end of the bench to perform. Going beyond that, it is incredibly unlikely he’s any big part of this team if they get healthy. If David Bote and Nico Hoerner were healthy right now, Sogard might already be out of a job. But they aren’t and it’s tough to absorb a bunch of infield injuries.
I’m sure most Cubs fans would also point at Jason Heyward for replacement. His numbers this year are dreadful to be sure. I suspect he too will see less playing time once the Cubs are healthy. Kris Bryant has already played almost twice as much time in the outfield as the infield. It’s not hard to imagine that with a fully healthy team that includes Bote, Hoerner and also Matt Duffy that Bryant would basically be a full time outfielder. I have to admit, I’m a sucker for the defense, leadership and intangibles of Heyward. I think I’d be pretty hard pressed to move on from him, in season, as long as the team is still competing at the top of the division.
And then if you are going to point fingers at Heyward, do you have to also point them at Ian Happ? Ian’s numbers are almost as bad as Heywards, he doesn’t offer the defensive pedigree either. But when do you move on from a guy one season removed from being a fringe MVP candidate, albeit in a weird, shortened season?
This is the biggest reoccurring problem with the Cubs. The offense goes into funks and it is often the guys you count on the most right in the middle of the struggling. Kris Bryant is having a brutal June after looking like an MVP candidate through the first two months of the season. Anthony Rizzo has picked things up a bit, but by and large no one has really stepped up to fill in for what Bryant was providing. Joc Pederson has been stepping up, but at the same time Patrick Wisdom has, at least for a few days, stopped being a crusher of baseballs. Sergio Alcantara shows flashes of talent, but also looks overwhelmed at times. Willson Contreras has largely seemed ordinary for most of the year (is it me or does he look angry all of the time this year?). What do you do when your core stops performing? You hold your breath and hope it ends.
Things are never as good as they look when everything is clicking, nor as bad as they are when everything looks broken. This too shall pass. Let’s put this last week behind us, look at the garish numbers from last night and turn the page. As you’ll recall, the Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA (Win Probability Added) and are not in any way subjective. Many days WPA will not tell the story of what happened, but often it can give at least a glimpse to who rose to the occasion in a high-leverage moment or who didn’t get the job done in that moment. And now, let’s get to the results.
Game 70, June 18: Marlins 10, Cubs 2 (39-31)
- Superhero: Joc Pederson (.142). 2-4, 2HR (10, 11), 2RBI, 2R
- Hero: Sergio Alcantara (.050). 0-2, 2BB, K
- Sidekick: Eric Sogard (.002). 0-0, BB
- Billy Goat: Zach Davies (-.414). 6IP (27 batters faced), 7H, 3BB, 8R, 2K (L 4-4)
- Goat: Patrick Wisdom (-.070). 0-4, K
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.042). 0-4, 2K
WPA Play of the Game: Adam Duvall batted with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning. It was a 1-1 game. He hit a grand slam and the rout was on. (.325)
*Cubs Play of the Game: Joc Pederson led off the game for the Cubs with a solo homer. (.102)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Heroes and Goats Cumulative Standings: (Top 3/Bottom 3)
- Craig Kimbrel +18
- Kris Bryant +14
- Patrick Wisdom +12
- Jason Heyward/PJ Higgins -9.5
- Eric Sogard -10.5
Up Next: Game two of a three game set on Saturday afternoon. Jake Arrieta will again try to get things going in the right direction for the Cubs and himself. Jake is 0-3 with a 7.47 ERA over his last four starts. But he is 8-1 career against the Marlins in 12 starts. Pablo Lopez starts for the Marlins. He has a 3.12 ERA but was roughed up last time out, allowing four runs in just three innings of work against the Braves. Hopefully the Cubs can get back into the win column and avoid losing back-to-back series for the first time since April 26 to May 2 when they lost three of four to the Braves and two of three to the Reds, all on the road.