Analyzing the All-Star chances for each Cubs player

Analyzing the All-Star chances for each Cubs player

Barring a crazy Fourth of July holiday, the Cubs will not have a player voted into the National League All-Star starting lineup.

It's always possible a Cubs player could join that lineup over the next two weeks as a replacement, but as of Monday, the only Cub with a chance of being voted in was catcher Willson Contreras, who was close on the heels of former MVP Buster Posey.

Javy Baez somehow slipped to 3rd in voting among second basemen while Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist were all likely too far behind in their respective positions to make up the ground before voting closes on July 5.

But that's not to say the Cubs won't be well-represented when it comes time for the entire roster — including reserves — to be announced.

Either way, Baez will be on the NL roster. That much is clear.

Jon Lester leads the NL in wins (11) and will enter his next start with a 2.25 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his age 34 season.

Washington's Max Scherzer and New York's Jacob deGrom are having fantastic seasons and should be the NL's starting pitcher, but if their schedule doesn't allow, Lester looks like the next-best candidate at the moment.

Albert Almora Jr. may also be named as an NL reserve with the incredible first half he's put up so far this year.

The 24-year-old entered play Tuesday 2nd in the NL in batting average (.331), just behind Cincinnati's Scooter Gennett (.334). And that was before Almora doubled home a run in the 5th inning Tuesday to get the Cubs on the scoreboard.

He wasn't an everyday starter at the beginning of the year and thus wasn't included by the Cubs on the All-Star ballot, so the only way fans could vote him in is by writing him in manually.

Still, Almora has been an absolute revelation for the Cubs this season, hitting .332 with a .371 on-base percentage and .834 OPS. He's on pace for 88 runs in only 476 at-bats and has already accrued as much WAR (1.7) in 78 games in 2018 as he did in 179 games between 2016-17 combined.

Almora is always focused on the team and trying to get the Cubs back to the Promised Land. But even he could allow himself to dream on how cool it would be to head to Washington D.C. in two weeks to represent his organization.

"It'd be special," Almora said. "Not even being on the player's ballot, to be a write-in everywhere, no exposure when it comes to social media from our team or anything, that'd be pretty neat if I could make that.

"It shows people really pay attention to the season. But at the same time, I'm not looking at that. I'm not paying attention to that. But it would definitely be a great experience."

Almora appeared in 132 games for the Cubs last season, but only notched 299 at-bats in the process. Despite hitting .298 with a .783 OPS, he was only a platoon player as the Cubs limited his plate appearances against right-handed pitching.

The Cubs still manage his exposure to some tough righties and Almora still has a tendency to swing at too many breaking pitches low and away, but he's made remarkable strides this year. Entering Tuesday's game, he was hitting .329 with an .815 OPS against righties compared to a .333 average and .855 OPS against lefties.

When asked if his place near the top of the NL leaderboard in batting average is any validation for the amount of work he's put in, Almora let out a breath and said, "Ah man, I've put in a lot of work, that's for sure.

"There's still a lot of season left, so I'm not gonna sit here and say, 'Yeah, what I did paid off,'" Almora continued. "I'm just putting my head down and playing the game. There's still a long way to go. 

"I feel like you can really determine a player throught he final stages of the season, when you start getting tired and fatigued. It's been a nice season so far for myself and team-wise, we're right where we need to be."

Almora talks about rest and with a team hoping to be playing through the end of October, getting 3 days off in mid-July for the All-Star Break would be a major boon.

At the same time, the Cubs also understand how exciting it would be for these young players to be able to experience the honor of going to the Midsummer Classic for the first time and Joe Maddon believes it can do wonder for the confidence of a guy like Almora.

As for the rest of the Cubs, Willson Contreras looks to be a good bet to go in as a reserve even if he can't catch Posey in the voting. 

Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber are having resurgent offensive seasons at the plate and the NL outfield isn't as stacked as it usually is, so it's possible one — or both — of the Cubs outfielders makes the trip to D.C.

Kris Bryant's All-Star chances have slimmed after enduring the worst month of his pro career in June and landing on the disabled list for the first time ever. Nolan Arenado is a lock to start at third base if healthy and Cincinnati's Eugenio Suarez will probably be his backup. Then it's a choice between Anthony Rendon, Travis Shaw and Bryant among the other candidates if the NL squad even has 3 third basemen.

Across the diamond, Atlanta's Freddie Freeman should start and it would be hard for Anthony Rizzo to beat out the likes of Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Belt and Joey Votto for a reserve spot. Rizzo is currently 10th in the NL in OPS, ahead of only Justin Bour, Ian Desmond and Josh Bell among qualifiers.

Ben Zobrist is having a very solid season, but isn't an everyday player at age 37 and probably won't be included among the reserve outfielders.

Closer Brandon Morrow also has a chance to make the NL squad. He's only thrown 24.2 innings, but he's 18-for-19 in save chances and has a sparkling 1.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP.

Setup men aren't often selected for the midseason festivities, but Steve Cishek (1.89 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 10 holds, 2 saves) has been the linchpin of the Cubs bullpen this year while appearing in almost half the team's games.

Of course, none of this speculation is even taking into account the rule where each team must be represented at the All-Star Game. Maybe Colin Moran is the Pirates' only representative worthy of attending, which would take yet another third-base spot away from Bryant's potential bid.

We'll find out more about the Cubs' chances in the next week or so.

Cubs continue to fall back in latest All-Star ballots

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USA TODAY

Cubs continue to fall back in latest All-Star ballots

It’s looking bleak for Cubs players starting at the 2018 MLB All-Star Game.

MLB released another All-Star ballot update Monday, and Cubs players keep falling backwards.

Catcher Willson Contreras has kept pace with Giants catcher Buster Posey these last couple weeks, but Contreras trails Posey now by 144,000 votes. Compared to last week, Contreras was 92,000 votes behind.

Anthony Rizzo’s margin is still way out of reach, trailing Braves first basemen Freddie Freeman by 1.7 million votes. Rizzo’s deficit was 1.3 million a week ago.

Javier Baez, who recently won NL Player of Week honors, has a new customer in front of him, and that’s Reds second basemen Scooter Gennett.

Last week, Gennett trailed Baez by 19,000 votes. Now, he’s surpassed Baez and Gennett takes over second place by 102,000 votes.

Braves’ Ozzie Albies still leads the race to start the Midsummer Classic at second base with 1.8 million votes.

Even though Baez has fallen, he still leads NL second basemen in triples, RBIs and SLG. In every other major statistical category, he ranks near the top five.

At third base, Kris Bryant who’s on the 10-day DL, still sits in second place, but it is well behind Rockies third basemen Nolan Arenado by 956,000 votes. Bryant’s another victim of losing ground, after he trailed by 646,000 votes last week.

Addison Russell remains in third place at shortstop with 1,026,014 votes, but still trails Braves Dansby Swanson and Giants Brandon Crawford.

And, in the outfield, it still remains the same. Jason Heyward sits in seventh with 1,018,320 votes. Kyle Schwarber sits in eighth with 939,907 votes, and Ben Zobrist ranks ninth with 900,316 votes.

As we reach the deadline to cast All-Star votes on July 5, 11 p.m. CT, it looks like some Cubs will be reserves in the All-Star game, but time will tell.

 

Ranking Cubs players at the season's halfway mark

Ranking Cubs players at the season's halfway mark

Every month throughout the 2018 season, we'll rank our top Cubs players based off trends and overall impact to the team's pursuit of another World Series.

As a refresher, here's what the power rankings looked like after May:

10. Addison Russell
9. Kyle Schwarber
8. Ian Happ
7. Jon Lester
6. Kyle Hendricks
5. Willson Contreras
4. Javy Baez
3. Albert Almora Jr.
2. Anthony Rizzo
1. Kris Bryant 
 
As we begin the official second half of the 2018 season, this list looks quite a bit different. For starters, Hendricks' struggles in June (7.03 ERA) knocked him from the rankings.

Schwarber turned it on at the plate toward the end of the month but struggled through much of the early going in June. Happ had a .402 on-base percentage in June, but his slugging completely went out the window (only 1 HR, 3 doubles and 4 RBI). 

In their place, a few guys earned spot on the list as they proved how valuable they are to the team's success:
 
10. Addison Russell
9. Brandon Morrow
8. Mike Montgomery
7. Jason Heyward
6. Kris Bryant
5. Willson Contreras
4. Albert Almora Jr.
3. Anthony Rizzo
2. Jon Lester
1. Javy Baez
 
10. Russell remains at No. 10 because of his value as a defender and his offense has been better than you think in June, hitting .329 with a .386 OBP and actually had 3 homers in the month, including Friday's grand slam against the Twins.
 
9. We saw how important Morrow is to this team when he hit the shelf and the Cubs bullpen endured their worst stretch without their closer/anchor.
 
8. Montgomery's value to the Cubs has never been higher. He's been a godsend in the rotation with Yu Darvish on the shelf and Hendricks struggling. He threw the most innings (35) on the team in June, pitching to a 2.83 ERA.
 
7. Heyward's swing is back. He was one of the Cubs' most valuable offensive players in June (.873 OPS) and provided his typical stellar defense and leadership. His bump to the No. 2 spot in Cubs order has changed the complexion of the lineup.
 
6. We know how important Bryant is to the Cubs but after enduring what may be the worst slump of his career this month and ending June on the disabled list, there's no way KB can come in higher on the Power Rankings list.
  
5. Contreras started to heat up with the bat a bit as the month came to a close while improving as a catcher behind the plate in calling games and working with the pitching staff. When he really turns it on, Willy can carry this offense all by himself.
 
4. Almora once again had a very productive month. He's playing phenomenal defense in center and hit .363 in 96 plate appearances, beginning July tied for the National League lead in batting average (.332).
 
3. Rizzo slumped badly in April, then had a monster May to make up for it. But he wasn't his typical self at the plate in June, with an OPS of only .785 despite going 8-for-15 to close out the month. He ranked 7th on the Cubs in OPS in June. 
 
2. With the whirlwind season the rotation is having, Lester has been the anchor for a Cubs team that has badly needed it. He reached 10 wins by June 26, the fastest he's ever gotten to that plateau in his career. He's giving up a lot of contact but that hasn't led to many runs, as he finished June 5-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.
 
1. If you've watched the Cubs at all this year, you know Baez has been the most consistent player for the first 3 months. He finished June leading the team in OPS and 2nd in RBI while moving all around the infield and batting order. He needs to be in the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby next month.