The calendar is flipped to July, meaning the countdown to MLB's July 31 trading deadline has begun in earnest.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer doesn't expect trade talks to seriously heat up until the last week of the month, meaning his team could experience a few weeks of stability before any moves are potentially executed.
Anthony Rizzo's addition to the lineup means the Cubs are pretty well set at the top and middle of the order. David DeJesus, Starlin Castro, Rizzo, Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair give the Cubs a fairly formidable offensive punch where it matters the most. Carlos Marmol's return to a closing role has allowed Dale Sveum to mix and match in setup situations, and the Cubs' bullpen has been much-improved as of late.
The Cubs have won two straight series with that stability, and look to finish off a sweep of Houston Sunday afternoon. Prior to Sunday's game, Sveum sounded almost relieved to discuss his regular lineup and reliable bullpen.
"I think things are falling into place as far as the bullpen goes, being more stable than it ever has been," the Cubs skipper said. "The lineup is going to be more stable probably than it has been. The addition of Rizzo and a power bat, a left-handed hitter obviously makes a difference -- it already has, with two game-winning hits out of four games he's been here."
But the Cubs remain in last place in the NL Central, and will stay multiple games behind fifth-place Houston no matter what happens Sunday. They closed out their previous series with a 17-1 loss to the Mets. While stability is nice, it may not last too long, as most expect the Cubs to be sellers at the trade deadline.
Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza's names have been bandied about in trade rumors, but with a dearth of teams looking to unload at the deadline, the Cubs could be in a position to get nice returns for other players currently on the roster as well.
"With the new Wild Card format, things change day-to-day, week-to-week and it doesn't take much of a hot streak to get in the race now," Hoyer explained Saturday. "One hot streak or a couple injuries to a team that's leading and everyone feels like they're back in the race. It's hard to characterize how it's going to play out this year. We don't really know, but in theory, there should be fewer sellers and there are going to be a lot more teams that are looking to add as we get closer to the deadline."
The Cubs, Astros, Padres and Rockies look like sellers from the National League, while Minnesota and Seattle may be open for business at the deadline based on their records and distance from a playoff berth. But just look at the American League, where Oakland enters Sunday only six games out of the second Wild Card spot. In the 30 days between now and the trade deadline, one winning streak could vault the Athletics into serious playoff contention.
It's a market in which there are few sellers and plenty of buyers. That could mean multiple teams going after whoever the Cubs make available, and that competition would, in theory, breed better offers.
A trade may take away from the stability the Cubs have found in the short term. But the right return could bring that stability back for years down the road.