As the Cubs get ready to open up a four-game series against the New York Mets on Thursday night, don't expect a magician in Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse, despite a few obvious parallels to last season.
The Cubs were also in New York on the final day of June in 2015, coming off arguably their worst stretch of the season (when they lost five straight to the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals). This summer, the Cubs have responded to their biggest speed bump – losing six of seven games to the Cardinals and Miami Marlins last week – by sweeping the Cincinnati Reds out of Great American Ball Park in a wildly eventful three-game series.
It's a little bit of deja vu for the Mets, too, as they are searching for an offensive identity for the second straight summer, just as the Cubs come into town. The Cubs will enter July with at least 51 wins and a share of the best record in baseball, now just a few percentage points separating them and the red-hot Texas Rangers.
Let's take a look at five things we learned about the Cubs in June:
1. They're not unstoppable.
Joe Maddon claims he doesn't believe in June swoons, but the Cubs just fought through their worst month of the season. But with a win Thursday, they will be 17-11 in June – only one game off May's pace (18-10 record).
The run differential (plus-170) is still almost double the next-closest team (Cleveland Indians at plus-91). Of course, the run differential soars while playing the Reds. The Cubs have scored 87 runs in those 10 games, or 21.1 percent of their runs for the season (412).
Also worth noting, this losing stretch coincided with a slew of injuries that included leadoff guy Dexter Fowler, role player Tommy La Stella and Jorge Soler, who had just started heating up before landing on the disabled list.
2. Kris Bryant is a superstar.
Bryant was already enjoying a pretty solid sophomore campaign before the series in Cincinnati, but he exploded for the best offensive game in franchise history on Monday night, and then added three more hits, two walks, an RBI and a pair of runs scored in the final two games at Great American Ball Park.
For June, Bryant enters play Thursday with a 1.058 OPS and is now on pace for 44 homers, 122 RBI and 128 runs scored with a .931 season OPS.
Oh yeah, and over the past calendar year, he's leading the National League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) – and ranking fourth in Major League Baseball – ahead of even 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper.
There's no sophomore slump for Bryant, and at the age of 24, he continues to get better. With only 225 big-league games under his belt, he's already one of the best players in the league.
3. They absolutely need more bullpen help.
After a 2.72 bullpen ERA in April, Cubs relievers have posted ERAs of 3.80 and 3.93 in May and June, respectively.
Even elite closer Hector Rondon has struggled, blowing all three of his saves on the season over the last two weeks and allowing three of the five earned runs he's given up in 2016 in June.
Justin Grimm has a 5.79 ERA on the season and Adam Warren had allowed 13 runs over his last 17.2 innings before going down to the minor leagues to stretch out as a starter.
The Cubs are still searching for another left-handed arm in the bullpen. (Travis Wood is effective against both righties and lefties and serves as one of the long men in the bullpen.) The Cubs would also like another potentially dominant reliever to help take some of the load off Pedro Strop and Rondon at the back end of the bullpen.
4. This really is a great situation for young players.
The Cubs promoted two of their top prospects in June, and Willson Contreras and Albert Almora both hit the ground running.
Contreras has played three different positions and has posted a 1.067 OPS and 10 RBI in 12 games, while Almora is hitting .286 with a .776 OPS and hit his first big-league home run on Wednesday in Cincinnati.
The two rookies joined a list that includes Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber as young players who came up to the big-league level and flourished amid a contending squad.
Maddon and his coaching staff help create an environment where every player can feel comfortable.
5. The starting rotation couldn't keep that up forever.
While Jon Lester continues to roll, Jake Arrieta has looked human in June with a 3.54 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. John Lackey carried a hot streak into the month before allowing 10 earned runs in 10.1 innings against the Cardinals and Marlins.
The Cubs still lead baseball by a wide margin with a 2.54 rotation ERA (almost a full run better than the Mets' 3.30 mark), but there's a different look about this pitching staff when Arrieta is struggling with his command and the bullpen is searching for consistency.
To be clear, those are still excellent numbers. Just not the video-game stats the pitching staff was putting up in the first two months of the season.