The Cardinals set off fireworks for a Kris Bryant home run


The Cardinals set off fireworks for a Kris Bryant home run

There may be a sleeper cell Cubs fan working the fireworks at Busch Stadium.

Kris Bryant homered in the second inning of the Cubs-Cardinals game on Monday and surprisingly fireworks went off in St. Louis. Bryant made it 5-0 and he was almost at second base when the bang of a set of fireworks was audible on the CSN broadcast.

"And somebody set off some fireworks," play-by-play announcer Len Kasper said.

Jim Deshaies also chimed in on the broadcast with a crack about a Cubs spy.

"There's a mole." Deshaies said. "There's a Cubs spy in the fireworks department here."

A Cubs win eliminates the Cardinals from contention in the NL Central so this is just insult to injury.

Why the Cubs should not go all-in on a Jacob deGrom trade

Why the Cubs should not go all-in on a Jacob deGrom trade

Eighth inning. Two outs. 3-2 Cubs lead in Game 2 of Saturday's day-night doubleheader.

That's when it became clear the Cubs were not going to be trading for Jacob deGrom.

OK, that's an exaggeration. 

But when Pedro Strop gave up a seeing-eye single to Cardinals infielder Yairo Munoz just past the outstretched glove of Ben Zobrist, it was another reminder just how important both Javy Baez and Addison Russell are to the Cubs' success.

Munoz's single tied the game and the wheels fell off from there as the Cardinals scored 3 more in the ninth for a 6-3 win.

Remember, Baez had been ejected from the game in the fifth inning for throwing his helmet in frustration to a check swing call.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Joe Maddon said. "...Listen, I'm not gonna deingrate Zo at all — it's just a play that Javy might've been able to make."

Many have wondered how Baez's arm, athleticism and flair would play at shortstop for good, but the simple fact of the matter is the Cubs defense is a huge weapon when Baez is at second and Addison Russell is at short.

That defense is what the Cubs can hang their hat on and project to show up every single day in October. By nature, the offense will always come and go (especially facing the best pitchers in the game) and the Chicago pitching staff is filled with question marks.

So how do the Cubs acquire a starter of deGrom's caliber and years of team control without giving up a piece like Russell in return?

All of that is a long-winded way of gaining some perspective on all the Cubs fans who want their team to go out and get deGrom.

The Cubs couldn't get the Mets ace and NL Cy Young candidate without severely weakening another aspect of their big-league team. There simply isn't enough top talent in the way of prospects for the Cubs to pry deGrom and his 2.5 years of team control out of New York.

There are no Eloy Jimenezes or Gleyber Torres's left in this Cubs system. The Cubs had zero prospects in the Top 50 midseason list released by Baseball Prospectus earlier this month.

"We're in a more difficult position to [make a big-name trade]," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Sunday. "I don't think it's impossible. But certain years lend themselves to being able to participate in more hands.

"Other years, because of the way your prospects are performing or because of your desire to keep growing the farm system or just the nature of what's available and how much you need, you have to be more selective. We're hopefully pursuing lots of different things, but I think in terms of what's realistic for us, we have to be a little bit more targeted, more selective and a little more opportunisitc.

"And that's fine. Sometimes those end up being the best deals. The [Jesse] Chavez deal is an example of that. He's probabaly not a name anyone had mentioned at all. We think he's a really good fit for us. So that's [an example of] the kind of stuff we're looking to do. While participating in everything else, but knowing that most of the stuff we talked about we won't be able to get done."

It's easy to dream about this Cubs team adding a pitcher like deGrom to the front of its rotation, improving the clear weakness of this current team.

But it would come at a cost. Is it really worth it to lessen the October defense up the middle by a significant measure or weaken the team's depth for a guy who only pitches one out of every four games in the postseason?

Some might think so and there's a valid argument this Cubs team is one dynamic pitcher away from being the best in baseball. But it depends on what you have to give up to acquire said "dynamic pitcher."

Pitching is obviously important in the playoffs, but the Cubs are better off trying to make it work with the arms they have. They've already invested a ton of capital in a starting rotation that is signed through the 2020 season.

After all, they boast the best record and run differential in the NL and have opened up a 3.5 game lead in the division on the morning of July 23.

They've done all that in spite of an inconsistent rotation, even if many were calling it one of the best in baseball before the season once Yu Darvish signed.

The Cubs are in the position they're in thanks to a defense that has looked more like the historical 2016 squad than last year's up-and-down team and don't discount the incredible position player depth that has allowed Maddon to keep everybody fresh and rested. This team has been built to withstand injuries and prolonged slumps from its best players — Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant — thanks to that amazing depth.

How could the Mets trade deGrom at this point without demanding at least Russell or Ian Happ as a headliner of the return back to New York?

And from the Cubs' perspective how do they subtract pieces from the deepest roster in the league that has needed every bit of its depth this season?

The best course of action for the Cubs in 2018 is to add another bullpen piece or two (like Zach Britton) and work to get their starters back on track — or, in Darvish's case: healthy.

The track records of guys like Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana indicate they are pitching pretty well below their career norms. Even with Jon Lester due some more regression, he's still a very effective pitcher who is battle-tested and boasts a history of rising to the occasion when the lights are brightest in October.

Mike Montgomery may not have cracked the Cubs' rotation until mid-May, but he's a different pitcher as a starter (3.02 ERA, 1.18 WHIP). Tyler Chatwood's control issues have been well-documented, but he's also sporting a walk rate nearly double his previous career high, so history indicates something may click in that regard eventually.

As Epstein said, each year is different. 

The 2016 Cubs had a clear need at closer and a guy like Aroldis Chapman was enough to push the team over the top to claim the first World Series title in 108 years.

The 2017 Cubs needed a jolt and starting pitching depth and Quintana was exactly that.

The 2018 Cubs have a clear need for a reliable, front-end starting pitcher, but with no elite prospects to deal, it may just be too costly to subtract much from the major-league roster in an effort to address this particular weakness.

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series


Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here: