In three wins this weekend over the Cardinals, free agent signees Cody Bellinger and Jameson Taillon took turns in the spotlight giving the Cubs a lift as they try to get back into contention. After the off day and on to the other side of town, it was a different free agent signing taking his turn wearing the Superhero cape. This saved me from having to deep dive to see if any player has ever won four consecutive Superhero awards in the history of this series.
Tuesday’s Superhero, Dansby Swanson, wasted no time getting things going with a two-run homer in his first at bat. Christopher Morel went back-to-back and the White Sox were in a lot of trouble. But Dansby wasn’t done. For good measure he homered again in his second at bat. That one was with the bases empty, but at 4-0 in the fourth, that would end up being all of the runs the Cubs would need.
Kyle Hendricks had a role to play in the quick start as well. While the Cubs were rolling to a 4-0 start, he was throwing four perfect innings. Ex-Cub prospect Eloy Jimenez doubled leading off the fifth. One of those ever present reminders of trade deadline deals past. Your experience may be different than mine, but I think above everything else, I just don’t want to see any top prospects sent off to improve this team. You never know what can happen if you get into the playoffs, but this team would have to add a whole lot not to be a heavy underdog in any series. To be sure, the trio of Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks isn’t going to make any opponent excited to see the Cubs. Just count me in the camp of minor cosmetic change and nothing significant.
After that double, Hendricks coaxed three straight ground outs, escaping serious harm, but allowing the Sox a run. He then threw a perfect sixth, so just one hit and one run through six and in fact only one batter over the minimum.
The Cubs added two in the seventh, one on their fourth homer of the game (Nico Hoerner) and the other on yet another hit and RBI for Swanson, a two-out RBI single.
Unfortunately, Hendricks had a rough seventh. He faced five batters and only recorded one out and that was a sacrifice fly. He eventually left with two on and one out. But Mark Leiter Jr. quickly dispatched two Sox hitters and the Cubs escaped with a 7-3 lead.
If you’ve paid attention here, you “knew” that Swanson’s RBI single sealed this one up. This was the 27th time this season and third straight time the Cubs have scored at least seven runs. They remain a perfect 27-0 in such games.
And that was that. For a Cubs-Sox game, this one felt remarkably easy. The team remains hot. This marks four straight wins and six out of seven. The team is just two games under .500. Tomorrow, they’ll have the chance to match their accomplishment of June 24. That was the day of the first London game and the last time the Cubs were as high as one game under .500. Their bottom was 10 games under. It’s a distant memory, but they were five over on April 21 and two days earlier on April 19.
So you can slice things a number of ways. From their most recent valley on July 3, they are 11-6. If you go back to June 8, they are 23-15. And if you go back to May 28, they are 27-21. The Cubs were last at .500 on May 12. They won that day and got back to .500. They lost the following game, number 39, to fall under .500 and they have been since. If they can win again Wednesday, then the team has played exactly .500 ball over a 62-game stretch.
So what does any of that mean? If you take the most favorable split of that group, the 11-6 over the last 17, that’s the pace the Cubs would need to maintain to get to 89 wins. The second chunk where they are 23-15? If they extend that pace out, they get to 86 wins. The one where they were 27-21 would be a pace that would get them to 84 wins.
Is any of that sustainable? Honestly, the roster probably has to improve to maintain even the low end of that. Clearly, this stretch of games has been aided by some pretty terrible opposition. To be fair, the only team you can beat on a given day is the one in the other dugout. As each and every one of us is keenly aware, if you don’t bring it on a given day, you can get beat by any team in baseball. Even the very worst team in baseball has won 27.5 percent of its games.
Still, I think the roster has to improve to get to 84 or more wins. It seems pretty clear at this point that it will take at least 84 and likely a few more wins to reach the post season. Again, being fair I’m only saying the roster has to improve. A healthy Nick Madrigal is probably one piece of that puzzle. Hayden Wesneski could very well be a piece of that equation. I wouldn’t be surprised if Matt Mervis still has some value to add to this team down the stretch. It could be that some other player from Iowa bolsters the offensive depth and another the bullpen.
Would it be great if they were able to add a piece of two from outside of the organization? Absolutely. I think it almost always provides a boost to a team to add talent to support he efforts to win down the stretch. I’d love to see someone do a deep dive on how teams that add talent at the trade deadline fair. I suspect that most of them do pretty well though there are bound to be some outliers where things just go south despite the reinforcements.
As one of the bigger skeptics hanging out in Cubs fandom, I’m sold. This team has earned the right to fight to the finish. I still have to say that I’d have to take phone calls in regards to trading pieces off of the major league or near major league part of the team. Even with Sergio Alcántara walking, there are still a number of middle infielders in the upper levels of the system without a clear path to playing time. There are certainly a lot of outfielders and no one is going to be distraught if one of them is dealt somewhere, possibly opening up a clear spot for Peter Crow-Armstrong to get to Iowa.
Optimistically, Brad Boxberger could return and provide some help in the bullpen. Nick Burdi, Ethan Roberts, Brandon Hughes, Ben Brown, Keegan Thompson, and Jeremiah Estrada are all guys who have at least some small chance of seeing the big leagues later this season and all are on the roster. Caleb Kilian is one guy I can think of from off of the roster who at least has a chance of being a piece down the stretch.
Some guys who could have a long shot at providing value for the offense are Alexander Canario, Brennen Davis, Nelson Velázquez, Edwin Rios and Jared Young. And of course, one or two of those names might not have any obvious route to becoming regular contributors for the Cubs. Could there be a hybrid approach that moves someone who has been a contributor for the big squad and still adds more valuable pieces for the future?
I feel like one of the hallmarks of the modern era of Cubs front office transactions is that they have been able to show some creativity at times. So I certainly can’t rule out the possibility of trades in both directions or even just a single trade that involves major league talent for major league talent. I expect there are a lot of options and they are going to want to explore an awful lot of scenarios and try to determine a path that allows this team to try to continue what it has been doing while also trying to open a competitive window into the future. It’s tricky to be sure. But it has to be a lot more exciting than just trying to find the best destination for your most valuable trade pieces.
Let’s go to three stars from another win.
- Dansby Swanson was clearly the top star of this one. Three hits and a walk in four plate appearances, two homers, four runs batted in and two runs.
- Kyle Hendricks gets the second spot despite that rough start to the seventh. He faced 19 batters through six innings. Just short of the best it can go. Three more hits, a walk and two more runs does not ruin the start. He was totally unhittable while the game was in doubt.
- Nico Hoerner noses out Christopher Morel for the last spot. Three hits and one of them leaving the yard. Two runs and two stolen bases round out a very nice night. Nico continues to be one of the top base stealers in baseball. There are only five players with more steals than Nico and three of them are within striking distance.
Game 100, July 24: Cubs 7, at White Sox 3 (49-51)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Dansby Swanson (.243). 3-3, 2 HR, BB, 4 RBI, 2 R
- Hero: Kyle Hendricks (.125). 6⅓ IP, 24 batters, 4 H, BB, 3 R, 4 K (W 4-4)
- Sidekick: Christopher Morel (.084). 2-4, HR, RBI, R
- Billy Goat: Mike Tauchman (-.066). 0-5, 2K
- Goat: Michael Fulmer (-.064). ⅓ IP, 3 batters, H, BB, K
- Kid: Ian Happ (-.039). 1-4, R, SB, K
WPA Play of the Game: Dansby Swanson batted with a runner on first with no outs in the second inning, the game was scoreless. But not for long! Dansby homered and the Cubs had a two run lead and it was off to the races. (.165)
*White Sox Play of the Game: Eloy Jimenez was the spoiler for the White Sox. He batted with a runner on first with no outs, the Sox down four. Both of these plays today share the same run expectancy. A team with a runner on first and no outs goes on to add .88 runs on average. In the first instance, Swanson provided the first two of what would eventually be three runs in that situation. In this one, Jimenez singled giving the Sox two on with no outs. (.046)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Nico Hoerner (3-5, HR, RBI, 2 R, 2 SB)
Adbert Alzolay (IP, 3 batters, 3 K, SV)
Seiya Suzuki (game changing catch, 1-5, R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion in the comments)
Sunday’s Winner: Cody Bellinger (Superhero is 68-31)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
- Cody Bellinger +20
- Marcus Stroman +18
- Ian Happ +17.5
- Justin Steele +12
- Mike Tauchman +11
- Michael Fulmer -11
- Julian Merryweather -12.5
- Patrick Wisdom -13
- Jameson Taillon -15
- Trey Mancini -20
Up Next: The second and final game on the south side of town. Marcus Stroman (10-7, 3.09, 122⅓ IP) gets the start for the Cubs. Marcus has been trailing off. He is 3-3 with a 4.66 ERA over his last seven starts (36⅔ IP). His last start was a rough one, four runs on seven hits and four walks in just 3⅔ innings. He’ll look to bounce back in this one. He pitched against the Sox last year on May 29, also on the south side. He threw seven scoreless, allowing three hits and two walks, though the Cubs eventually lost that one 5-4.
36-year-old righty Lance Lynn is scheduled to start for the Sox Wednesday night. Of course, there is at least some chance the veteran could be traded ahead of the start or held out because of the possibility of a trade. Still, he’s only 6-9 with a 6.18 ERA in 115 innings of work. Any trade for him is a long shot at this point in his career. Looking at just his last seven starts is a bit better (2-3, 5.27, 42⅔ IP), but he was tagged for six runs on eight hits and three walks last time out. Though he did pitch two outs into the seventh inning, so he can give some length. He was very good the last two years for the Sox when healthy. So this was a rather sudden fall off. Lynn has seen a lot of the Cubs in his career. When he starts Wednesday night, it will be his 23rd start against the Cubs, his most against any team. In his 24 overall appearances against the Cubs, he is 6-8 with a 5.11 ERA in 118 innings. The Cubs hit him well even when he was very good (though obviously, the Cubs were a pretty good offensive club in many of those same years).