Cubs

The 2019 Cubs are not a steamroller, but does this mean they can't win?

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USA TODAY

The 2019 Cubs are not a steamroller, but does this mean they can't win?

Their wins are not comfortable. Their losses are at times puzzling. The 2019 Cubs are not behaving like a steamroller that would create the feeling that a world championship is inevitable. Does this mean they can’t win?

After a nail-biting first 6 innings, the Cubs found late game power against the Pirates to open the second half. Bryant provided the home run, enough to help push across 3 runs in the bottom of the 7th and eventually to pull out the win.

The Pirates are now 2 games under .500. This Cubs team who expected to handily take the NL Central are finding themselves playing crab in the bucket with smaller crabs. By now, as the second half begins, we learn that these smaller crabs together have some pull.

Take the bottom two teams. The Pirates are 3rd in all of baseball in batting average. They can flat out hit. The Reds are 3rd in all of baseball in ERA. They can flat out pitch. If you catch either of these teams on a good day, they will beat you. There will be no steamrolling this season. The other teams have some assets, beatable ones, but you still have to beat them and not yourself.

It was known going into this season that the NL Central got better. Kicked off by the arrival of perennial MVP contender, Paul Goldschmidt, coming to the Central, but he has not been his MVP-caliber self, yet other teams and players have emerged to put a lot of potholes in the Cubs road to glory.

If we see the division as a battle until the end with all of the teams entering the ring taking equally wild swings at each other, then we must look outside the division to break the stalemate.

Optimism can be found when we look at the Cubs remaining schedule outside of the NL Central. Take a look. As of post-game:

San Diego 45-45

San Francisco 41-48

Oakland 50-41

Philadelphia 47-43

San Francisco 41-48

Washington 47-42

New York Mets 40-50

Seattle 39-55

San Diego 45-45

Not a single first-place team. Not one.

Sure, you have to win on the field and the A’s are good, the Nats are hot, but that is about it. Even if they play .500 in their division, they can accomplish great success by just beating teams they are having a better year than to date. Only the A’s have a better record (maybe the Nats if they win tonight.)

There is a flip side to this place of optimism. That it will be hard to frame this season as a success if they don’t go deep into the post-season on the heels of a division win. They are in first place now and we established that they have a fairly weak out of division schedule, so the Cubs are in the driver’s seat. There may be a lot of road left, but barring major injury, most of the obstacles would be self-placed.

As for the other two teams on their heels…

The Brewers still have the Astros, Twins, A’s

The Cardinals still have the A’s, Dodgers, Astros

If there is a time for expectation it is now. The Cubs start the second half at home, they have a weaker schedule than their closest division foes, they added a closer in Kimbrel. The talent is there.

We have heard a lot of grumblings about the hot seat for Joe Maddon long before this point in the season. It was hot in part because of the poor September last season, it was hot because of the organizational changes that were made after learning from a number of exit interviews with team leaders going into the off-season.

There is not much left to change with players other than to find ways for them to consistently execute. A few deals could be made to sure up some depth, but the pieces are there.

In the meantime, there is another level to reach when we look at what is happening with the American League’s Yankees or Astros or the NL’s Dodgers, but good execution gets the Cubs to a place to be able to win it on the diamond, where anything can happen, no matter the opponent.

But they must get there first and this division has seen leads evaporate quickly, it has seen even hot teams get neutralized by a divisional opponent. This starts to crush the wild card hopes and put more on the value of a division title. The NL Wild Card as it stands has 7 teams within 3 games of the final slot. This will be a long battle and any team around, in the end, will have to depend on other teams in the end. A bad spot to be in unless you win it outright.

So the Cubs need separation, space in their division to pull away and take advantage of the teams they will be playing outside of it. It is in their grasp and it creates great accountability, because of the same reason.

We know they can win, because of their ability, but now, if they can continue to get big hits as Heyward provided in the 8th with Kimbrel closing games out with little drama, we then know when it comes to their division.

They should win.

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Cubs aren’t trading Yu Darvish this winter, despite reported inquiries

Whether the Cubs trade a member of their position player core this winter — i.e. Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras — is to be determined. Both have been fixtures in rumors this offseason, and the Cubs may make a deal to replenish their barren farm system and retool their roster with the organization’s long-term stability in mind.

Yu Darvish, on the other hand, is a different story.

No, the Cubs won’t be trading Darvish this winter, despite the inquiries they received at the Winter Meetings this week, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

A year ago, this would be an entirely different conversation. Darvish was coming off a disappointing debut season on the North Side in which he made eight starts and posted a 4.95 ERA in 40 innings. He didn’t throw a single big-league pitch after May 20 due to a lingering arm issue that led to surgery last November.

2019 was only Year 2 of the lucrative six-year contract Darvish signed in February 2018. But between the injury and his struggles before it that season, the narrative entering 2019 was shifting towards Darvish being a potential bust.

The narrative around Darvish is obviously much different now, thanks to the stellar second half performance he put together last season. In 13 starts, the 33-year-old delivered a 2.76 ERA, striking out 118 batters compared to a mere seven walks in 81 2/3 innings.

Not only was Darvish walking the walk, but he was talking the talk. He was determined to turn things around after posting a 5.01 ERA in the first half, asking then manager Joe Maddon to start the Cubs’ first game after the All-Star break. The result? Six innings of two-hit, no-run ball with eight strikeouts and one walk. Darvish's comeback was officially on.

Bust? Darvish is far from it now. He opted in to the remaining four years of his contract earlier this offseason, calling the Cubs "perfect" for him.

If the Cubs were entering a rebuild, fielding Darvish trade offers would make plenty of sense. He's owed $81 million through 2023, a bargain compared to the deals Gerrit Cole (nine years, $324 million — Yankees) and Stephen Strasburg (seven years, $245 million — Nationals) earned this offseason. Darvish's contract is desirable, and trading him would help alleviate the Cubs' notoriously tight payroll situation, freeing up money for them to put towards other needs.

But the Cubs aren’t rebuilding, and trading Darvish would create a tremendous hole in a rotation with plenty of uncertainty after next season. José Quintana is set to hit free agency after 2020 and Jon Lester could join him, if his 2021 option doesn’t vest (he must pitch 200 innings next season for that to occur). Heck, even Tyler Chatwood's deal is up after 2020.

In one season, Darvish has elevated himself to the No. 1 pitcher in the Cubs rotation. The Cubs won't be better next season if they trade Bryant or Contreras, but they'd still be competitive and acquire assets for the future.

One player doesn't make a team in baseball, but the Cubs need Darvish in their rotation, not someone else's. Unless they're absolutely blown away by a trade offer, Darvish isn't going anywhere.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

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NBC Sports Chicago

Sports Talk Live Podcast: MLB 2019 Winter Meetings come to an end

SportsTalk Live is on location in San Diego for the final day of the MLB Winter Meetings.

0:00- Chuck Garfien, Tony Andracki and Vinnie Duber join Kap to recap the Winter Meetings. Tony was right-- the Cubs didn't make a move. Plus, should the White Sox have done more in San Diego?

12:00- Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons joins Kap and Chuck. The talk about the price for pitching and what the Cubs might do with Kris Bryant. Plus, Gammons talks about a text he received saying the White Sox were talking with the Red Sox about Andrew Benintendi and David Price. Would that make sense for the Southsiders?

20:00- White Sox World Series winning closer Bobby Jenks joins Kap to discuss his emotional article in The Players Tribune. They discuss his injuries with the Red Sox, the back surgery that almost cost him his life and then his downward spiral into addiction.

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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