Cubs

Swept out of St. Louis, Cubs waiting for trade market to accelerate

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Swept out of St. Louis, Cubs waiting for trade market to accelerate

ST. LOUIS — This isn’t fantasy baseball, and there aren’t many teams like the 2012-14 Cubs out there hanging “For Sale” signs right now.

Even if the Cubs wanted to overreact to getting swept out of Busch Stadium after Sunday night’s 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals — which finally ended at 12:05 Monday morning — they probably couldn’t. They still have to be patient after sitting through a tornado watch, two rain delays that lasted two hours and 29 minutes combined and a season-high five-game losing streak. 

But the Cubs (39-35) will eventually have to do something to close the gap on their biggest rivals and keep playing meaningful games into September. Setting aside the legitimate questions about how much financial flexibility they will have, the second wild card already changed the calculus for the July 31 trade deadline.

“There’s a chance this is one of the tightest markets we’ve ever seen,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’re going to have to be creative. A lot of teams will have to be creative, because there’s not going to be a lot of sellers. We keep on assuming that the next four or five weeks will shake some of that out, but it may not.”

[MORE: Cubs: Pedro Strop accepts apology from Bob Costas]

It’s fun to play connect the dots with Cubs hitters and New York Mets pitchers, which will happen during the three-game series that begins Tuesday night at Citi Field.  

You can wonder about which players to prioritize from the Oakland A’s — left-hander Scott Kazmir or super-utility guy Ben Zobrist? — when the Cubs don’t have a clear No. 5 starter and their lineup generated only four runs in 28 innings over the weekend, going 2-for-27 with men in scoring position against the Cardinals (51-24).

“They’ve beaten us with their experience,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They come up with the hit, we don’t. They make the pitch, we don’t.

“We’ve blinked and they haven’t. That’s what it’s really come down to.”

Go ahead and debate over Twitter the prospects you would give up in a deal. But all that won’t change the illusion of contention when only three teams entered Monday more than eight games back in the wild-card race: 

The Milwaukee Brewers fired manager Ron Roenicke in early May and have sunk to 19 games under .500. But would they trade within the division and with their rivals 90 miles south?  

[RELATED: Cubs get reinforcement with Neil Ramirez back in bullpen]

The Miami Marlins fired manager Mike Redmond in the middle of May and just lost superstar outfielder Giancarlo Stanton for at least a month with a broken bone in his wrist. Good luck trying to guess what happens next on that reality show.

Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg resigned last week before the Philadelphia Phillies could fire him as part of the major shakeup that franchise desperately needs. Ex-Cubs executive Andy MacPhail is reportedly on the verge of being named Philadelphia’s new head of baseball operations. 

Delusional or not, teams like the San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds can try to tell themselves they’re one good week away from jumping right back into this, or one good player away from being relevant. 

“You never know how that’s going to work,” Hoyer said. “Some teams might claw themselves back into the race and decide not to sell. You have to think about it creatively. You have to think about what would happen if there weren’t deals to be made, because there may not be a lot of deals out there.”

The Cubs already trail the Cardinals by 11.5 games in the National League Central. But they now have enough going for them — star manager, young blue-chip talent, veteran leadership and good clubhouse vibes — to justify the investment in the big-league team.

“It’s the same balancing act that we always go through,” Hoyer said. “This is a very important season. Every season that you’re in the race you have to take seriously, because you can’t always count on tomorrow. As much as we’re built for the future, you don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

“You don’t want to do anything that you’re going to look back on and say: That was hasty. But you never want to only look towards the future and ignore the fact that: Hey, this has been a really fun season with a lot of big positives. And can we improve some of the weaknesses we have to keep that going?”

Also remember the Cubs said things about the slow pace of deal-making at this time last year, just before shipping Jeff Samardzija to Oakland in the Fourth of July blockbuster that yielded Addison Russell. The Cubs also “jumped the market” in 2013, flipping Scott Feldman to the Baltimore Orioles on July 2 and remaking their pitching staff with Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

“We’re going to have to wait awhile to see how this trade market shakes out,” Hoyer said. “But there’s a chance it’s an extreme sellers’ market with so few teams selling. And only the next 25, 30 games will tell whether more teams end up in that sellers’ column.”

The Cubs won’t be selling like crazy, the way they did the last three summers, but a lost weekend in St. Louis also showed that maybe we shouldn’t automatically assume they will be such big buyers this time.

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

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Scott Changnon

Podcast: Cubs pass the first test in midst of crucial stretch

On the latest CubsTalk Podcast Scott Changnon and Tony Andracki discuss the state of the Cubs offense, the value of Javy Baez and Addison Russell and what it means now that the starting rotation looks to be finding its form.

With 17 games in 17 days (most of which come against contending teams), the Cubs started things off right with a series victory in St. Louis.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

The Cubs are in a way better spot than they were a year ago

ST. LOUIS — It's night and day watching the 2018 Cubs compared to the 2017 version.

Even with the injury to Javy Baez Sunday night, the Cubs are in a way better spot now than they were a year ago.

On June 17 of last season, the Cubs sat at 33-34 with a run differential of just +6.

They looked flat more often than not. "Hangover" was the word thrown around most and it was true — the Cubs really did have a World Series hangover.

They admit that freely and it's also totally understandable. Not only did they win one of the most mentally and physically draining World Series in history, but they also ended a 108-year championship drought and the weight of that accomplishment was simply staggering. 

The 2018 iteration of the Cubs are completely different. 

Even though they didn't finish off the sweep of their division rivals in St. Louis Sunday night, they're still only a half-game behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central and for the best record in the league. A +95 run differential paced the NL and sat behind only the Houston Astros (+157), Boston Red Sox (+102) and New York Yankees (+98) in the AL.

Through 67 games, the Cubs sat at 40-27, 13 games above .500 compared to a game below .500 at the same point last summer.

What's been the main difference?

"Energy," Joe Maddon said simply. "Coming off the World Series, it was really hard to get us kickstarted. It was just different. I thought the fatigue generated from the previous two years, playing that deeply into the year. A lot of young guys on the team last year.

"We just could not get it kickstarted. This year, came out of camp with a fresher attitude. Not like we've been killing it to this point; we've been doing a lot better, but I didn't even realize that's the difference between last year and this year.

"If anything, I would just pinpoint it on energy."

Of course the physical component is easy to see. The Cubs played past Halloweeen in 2016 and then had so many demands for street namings and talk shows and TV appearances and Disney World and on and on. That would leave anybody exhausted with such a shortened offseason.

There's also the mental component. The Cubs came into 2018 with a chip on their shoulder after running into a wall in the NLCS last fall against the Los Angeles Dodgers. They have a renewed focus and intensity.

But there's still plenty of room for more. The Cubs aren't happy with the best record and run differential in the NL. They know they still haven't fully hit their stride yet, even amidst a 24-13 stretch over the last five weeks.

"I think we've been pretty consistent," Jon Lester said. "We've had some ups and downs on both sides of the ball as far as pitching and hitting. But the biggest thing is our bullpen and our defense has been pretty solid all year.

"That's kept us in those games. When we do lose — you're gonna have the anomalies every once in a while and get blown out — we're in every single game. It's all we can do. Keep grinding it out.

"Our offense will be fine. Our defense and the back end of our bullpen has done an unbelievable job of keeping us in these games. And if we contribute as a starting five, even better. 

"You have the games where our guys get feeling sexy about themselves and score some runs. That's where the snowball effect and we get on that little bit of a run. I feel like we've been on a few runs, it just hasn't been an extended period of time. I don't have any concerns as far as inside this clubhouse."

Lester hit the nail on the head. The Cubs sit at this point with only 1 win from Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood struggling with command and low power numbers from several guys including Kris Bryant.

Throw in the fact that Joe Maddon's Cubs teams always seem to get into a groove in August and September when they're fresher and "friskier" than the rest of the league and this team is currently in very good shape for the remainder of the year. 

If they can get 3 wins away from the World Series after going 33-34, the sky should be the limit for a 2018 squad that's in a much better position 67 games in.