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The Cubs’ 2021 season is exactly at the halfway point. Where do they go from here?

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The answer isn’t as easy as you think.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone here seems to be yelling, “Sell! Sell!” after the Cubs’ disastrous sweep at the hands of the Brewers that ended the first 81 games of the 2021 season with a 42-39 record and second-place standing, six games out of first place.

At the risk of sounding too optimistic, I’m here to tell you that it’s too early to pull the plug on the 2021 Cubs season, despite the horrific loss Wednesday in Milwaukee.

First, let’s look at the Cubs’ June and the Brewers’ June.

The Cubs were 12-16 in June; the Brewers 19-8, a seven and a half game difference.

Why was that? Not because Milwaukee is a fantastic team and the Cubs were awful. Look at the quality of the opposition the two teams were playing in June.

Of the 27 games the Brewers played in June, exactly six were against teams that had winning records at the time the games were played — three against the Reds in Milwaukee (they got swept) and the just-completed series against the Cubs (you know what happened there). So — 3-3 vs. winning teams in June, 16-5 vs. losing teams. Perfectly fair, this is what good teams should do, there is no denying the Brewers are a good team.

They fattened up on the three worst teams in the league, going 14-3 against the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Rockies. That schedule is about the easiest of any I’ve seen for any team for a calendar month.

Meanwhile, the Cubs’ 28 June games included just four (of 28) against a team that was under .500 at the time the game was played — the last game of the Cardinals series and all three vs. the Marlins. They went 2-2 in those games. Against the three NL West teams who are the best in the league, they went 7-10. (8-10 if you throw in the May 31 game vs. the Padres.)

It is true that the Brewers are 8-3 vs. the Dodgers and Padres. They’ve got what any neutral observer would call a tougher schedule post-All-Star break, while the Cubs will have nine games against the Rockies and Diamondbacks.

More than that, look at the lineups the Cubs sent out over the last few games. I have often said, jokingly, that these are “spring training split-squad lineups,” but you cannot expect to win many games when two of your best hitters, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, missed almost the entire Brewers series and you are giving starting assignments on a daily basis to guys who should be spot starters (Eric Sogard) or getting time in Triple-A (Sergio Alcántara) or on the DFA wire (Rafael Ortega).

I guess what I’m trying to say here is the old saw: “No team is as bad as it looks when it’s on a losing streak.” One week ago the Chicago Cubs were in first place and coming off a no-hitter. An admittedly awful six-game losing streak shouldn’t change the fact that when healthy and productive, this team has put together very good stretches of play. From May 1 through June 13, the Cubs went 27-13 in reaching a season-high 11 games over .500 (38-27). Since then, yes, the 4-12 record is awful.

For those of you yelling, “Sell! Sell!”, it’s my opinion that it’s still too early to do this. Further, what are you going to get for an injured Anthony Rizzo, a Kris Bryant who’s hitting .103/.197/.191 (7-for-68) over his last 20 games, or a Javier Báez who’s on pace to obliterate the Cubs franchise record for batter strikeouts (pace: 214, team record 199 by Bryant in 2015, MLB record 223 by Mark Reynolds in 2009)? If you think some great prospect haul would come in for any of those three, think again — the Cubs wouldn’t even get what they got for Yu Darvish, which many have disparaged as “toddlers.” (Revisit that in 2024, please.) In fact, if I had to guess, if the Cubs don’t trade Rizzo or Baez (and they probably can’t), both might very well accept qualifying offers for 2022 and stick with the team one more year to build free agent value back.

The only true tradeable commodity on this team is Craig Kimbrel. Some think a haul such as the Yankees got from the Cubs for Aroldis Chapman could be had for Kimbrel; perhaps that’s true. In the end, though, what did the Yankees get? The broken-down remains of Adam Warren, one player who never played in the big leagues (Rashad Crawford), an outfielder who’s posted four MLB seasons of 1.0 bWAR (four at-bats of which were for the Yankees), and Torres, who after two outstanding seasons has been mediocre-to-bad — Torres’ 2021 season currently posts a .638 OPS and 0.5 bWAR. Ian Happ, bad as he’s been, is having a better year than Torres.

If that’s the “haul” the Cubs could get for Kimbrel, I’d rather keep him.

For those of you who think the Ricketts won’t shell out money to improve this team, think again. They have to, because if they don’t and a “tanking” 2022 Cubs team loses 95+ games, people will stay away not only from Wrigley Field, but the Ricketts-built Wrigleyville play palaces they have built. As have many teams, the Cubs have turned baseball into a real-estate play in order to capitalize further on the popularity of the sport. Until the pandemic hit, this looked like a good bet. But with the economy still recovering and baseball having had a fan-less 2020, some people have decided to go elsewhere with their dollars. I doubt it’s escaped the Ricketts’ notice that of the eight Wrigley Field games since 100 percent capacity resumed, not one sold out despite nice weather and the Cardinals in town for three of them. This fanbase, finally given success over the last several seasons including the 2016 World Series championship, won’t tolerate another teardown and rebuild.

So be careful what you wish for, those of you ready to sell everything. This year’s Cubs team has performed very strangely. In April they looked awful, couldn’t score runs, got blown out several times. In May and early June they swept the Dodgers and Padres and won a series in San Diego and the bullpen was noted as the best in the game. Then over the last couple of weeks they’ve been horrific again, the offense vanished (largely due to injuries, in my view) and the bullpen, overworked, started to get hit hard. (It should be noted that at this writing the Cubs bullpen ERA, 3.11, still ranks second in MLB behind the Padres, 2.86, and well ahead of the third-place Giants, 3.28.)

With some pandemic restrictions still in place and MLB’s recent crackdown on foreign substances for pitchers, this has been a very strange season, with good teams going through bad stretches (Cubs, Yankees, Rays among them) and teams that seemed bad and out of contention suddenly moving back into playoff races (Nationals, Blue Jays). If you think things will go at a “normal” progression the rest of this year, think again. Example: After last Sunday’s action, the Astros had the best record in the American League and were coming home, where they were 26-13, to face the Orioles, the team with the worst AL record, a team 12-28 on the road. What happened? Of course, Baltimore swept the series and outscored Houston 28-12.

I’ll just repeat: This has been a very weird baseball season. I am convinced weird things are going to continue to happen.

Thirty days remain until this year’s trading deadline — it was set as July 30 instead of July 31 because MLB wanted to keep it on a weekday, and July 30 falls on a Friday. That’s a LOT of time. Thirty days ago, the Cubs were about to complete a sweep of the Padres and move 1½ games ahead of the Cardinals, then in second place. While it looks like the Brewers are currently invincible, all winning streaks eventually come to an end.

Now, if the Cubs continue to play like this for the week-plus and 10 games remaining until the All-Star break, then yes, I’d think they would probably explore some deals (again, with the caveat that if certain individual players continue to play poorly, their trade value, already low, might become nonexistent). On the other hand, if the Cubs can put together a bit of a winning streak and close the gap between them and the Brewers, maybe Jed Hoyer even goes out and acquires a pitcher or two before the deadline to help out the beleaguered starting rotation.

We have seen both the Cubs and other teams have up-and-down streaks all year. I don’t see any reason this Cubs team can’t turn things around, especially once they get home Monday. After Sunday’s game they’ll have played 45 games on the road, just 39 at home where they’ve played at a .667 winning percentage.

I did want to note this interesting fact:

That tweet was sent out before Wednesday’s loss, so yes, the Cubs are 3-9 against the Brewers. The teams play just twice more: four games at Wrigley August 9-12, three in Milwaukee September 16-18. But it does note that the teams are basically equal against everyone else, so far — and the Brewers have the tougher schedule going forward.

If this sounds familiar, something similar happened in 2017 between the Cubs and Cardinals. The teams were 77-65 against all teams except each other, where the Cubs had a 14-5 advantage. That was the nine-game difference between the 92-70 division champion Cubs and the 83-79 Cardinals (the Brewers finished second that year at 86-76). Could the same thing happen in 2021 with the Cubs and Brewers? Sure. But no one knows what’s going to happen going forward. Again, so many of you were ready to sell in April, then this same team you’re putting on the block today spent six weeks as the best team in baseball. It’s not impossible for that to happen again.

That’s how I see things as we enter July. Personally, I’m hoping the banged-up Cubs start to turn things around beginning Friday night in Cincinnati.

Poll

Where should the Cubs go from here?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Sell as many parts as possible now
    (156 votes)
  • 36%
    Wait and see for another couple of weeks, then sell
    (187 votes)
  • 30%
    Wait and see for another couple of weeks, then buy
    (154 votes)
  • 3%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (16 votes)
513 votes total Vote Now