As their season falls into the abyss of a losing streak that reached eight games Saturday in Cincinnati, the Cubs have at least the feel-good moment of the All-Star selections of two — maybe three — players to look forward to celebrating Sunday night.
Albeit, for as long as those players figure to last on the roster, considering that likeliest Cubs All-Stars Craig Kimbrel and Kris Bryant might not be around for even another month as two of the likeliest trade pieces in demand by the July 30 deadline — from a Cubs roster that looks more and more like a clearance rack for the rest of the league with each loss.
“If it happens, it happens,” said Bryant after Saturday’s loss, clearly tired of the questions about his Cubs future that have been directed at him continually for the past three years or more — thanks to a front office that has stoked the short-term narrative of its All-Star core since then-team-president Theo Epstein said the “offense broke” the second half of the 2018 season and then fired another hitting coach.
Wait. Didn’t we say something about a feel-good moment?
Enter Andrew Chafin.
Usually when that happens it’s been a good thing for the Cubs this year.
Chafin entering games for the Cubs has been good enough to produce a 1.54 ERA in a team-high 37 appearances (third in the National League through Friday) for a bullpen that for the vast majority of the first half was the best in baseball.
But good enough for the guy with the All-Star attitude and MVP mustache to earn his first All-Star selection in his seventh full season in the majors?
“I’m doing my best not to think about it,” he said. “If we get there then we’ll figure out how we’re going to feel about it then.”
The man who often wears a "failed starter" T-shirt during pregame work does at admit to joking about it with family and friends who have brought it up.
“Yeah, I’m not a closer, and I’ve given up more than one run,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to make an All-Star team.”
To be sure, it’s a long shot for any reliever who’s not a closer. And the Cubs’ recent slide hasn’t done him any favors when it comes to considering more than the one or two more obvious guys on the team.
But top setup relievers have earned increasing consideration over the past decade, including the likes of Houston’s Ryan Pressly, Detroit’s Joe Jimenez, Milwaukee’s Jeremy Jeffress, Cleveland’s Andrew Miller and Philadelphia’s Pat Neshek being selected for the last three games alone.
And while a few others might have better ERAs or bigger strikeout numbers, it’s hard to imagine many, if any, setup men who have been more valuable to their team’s first-half success than Chafin and Ryan Tepera (who’s on the injured list).
“I don’t think they get the love as much as maybe the closers do, right?” Cubs manager David Ross said last weekend of setup guys and All-Star selections, adding of Tepera and Chafin:
“That’s the reason we’re in the position we’re in.”
The Cubs were within two games of first place when Ross said that. But the value of Chafin hasn’t changed, even with the losing streak — which could make him a trade candidate as much as an All-Star candidate this month, along with Kimbrel and Bryant.
If Chafin were to pull off the upset when All-Star rosters are announced Sunday?
“That’d be awesome, wouldn’t it?” Ross said, then laughed. “I don’t know if he’d rather make the All-Star team or go hunting.”
Said Chafin: “Usually for me it hits the All-Star break, and I go check out for a few days and get my mind completely off everything and try to hit that reset button when I can during that time.”
But since we brought it up?
“I miss my family. They’re back home right now,” Chafin said. “I’m sure I could get them to Denver one way or the other if it came to that.”