Underachieving Cubs get what they deserve with only Wade Davis locked in as All-Star

Underachieving Cubs get what they deserve with only Wade Davis locked in as All-Star

The year after their All-Star Game takeover, the Cubs will be keeping a conspicuously lower profile at this showcase event, another sign of an underachieving 41-41 team.

Joe Maddon will still probably have some sort of “Miami Vice” outfit or whiteout look for the Biscayne Boulevard parade – and enjoy all the attention from the international media and banter with familiar reporters at Marlins Park – but the Cubs are playing like they could use a four-day timeout next week to decompress on the beach and on the golf course.

A World Series manager can’t just pack the All-Star roster with his cronies anymore. There might be an enthusiasm gap for Cub fans and a meaningless exhibition after watching the end of the 108-year drought. Competitors are clearly catching up to the defending champs, with the Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies all on pace to win between 93 and 100-plus games.

But this is the bottom line to the Cubs getting one guaranteed All-Star selection – lights-out closer Wade Davis plus Kris Bryant in the final-vote gimmick – on Sunday when Major League Baseball unveiled the National League roster.

“It’s just reflective of our performance to this point,” Maddon said. “It’s just different, man. Last year, it was just a different vibe, a different start. Guys were having simultaneously kind of career years. This year, we’re not.”

The Cubs are over the comparisons to last year, but the runaway forces and unique bonds on the 2016 team showed up at Petco Park in San Diego, where their entire infield started the All-Star Game: Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell and Bryant. Their you-go, we-go leadoff guy (Dexter Fowler) also made the West Coast trip along with two Cy Young Award-caliber starting pitchers (Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester).

“Dexter’s not here,” Maddon said. “Zobrist has been hurt. Jason (Heyward) was doing well, then he got hurt. Addison has not had the same kind of first half that he had last year.

“Part of it has been impacted by injury, (but) I’m not worried about any of that.”

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Another point of reference: The 2014 Rick Renteria-managed team that ultimately lost 89 games and finished in fifth place for the fifth consecutive season landed three (!) All-Stars in Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Jeff Samardzija (though a Fourth of July trade to the Oakland A’s made him ineligible to pitch).

For all their bumps and bruises, frustrating inconsistencies and breakdowns in all phases, the Cubs are still two games out of first place in an NL Central where only the Milwaukee Brewers are (barely) playing above .500.

“I just want us to be well and back together by hopefully right after the break going into August,” Maddon said. “We’ve done well the last part of the season the last two years in a row.

“Stay handy for right now and then get to that point. And then hopefully get the band back together and make the push that you’re looking to make.” 

While the rest of the big-league players scatter to vacation destinations, the most interesting Cub involved in the All-Star festivities might be Class-A outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who got invited to the Futures Game.

Assuming the farm system isn’t tapped out and has enough talent to package in a blockbuster deal – and the front office decides this up-and-down team is worth the reinvestment and wins a long-shot bidding war for a top-of-the-rotation starter – Jimenez would be the headliner.

“Listen, this kid is quite a talent,” Maddon said. “He’s a great kid, too. Very bright. It’s an easy conversation with him. He’s open and he listens well. Besides being this physical specimen with all kinds of tools, he’s got something going on between his ears, which I think is really going to benefit him.

“I don’t know when it’s going to be, but he’s going to be here at some point for a long period of time.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: