NEW YORK — Forget this Mets series in June that the Cubs already have lost.
It wasn’t going to make or break their season or plans for next month’s deadline whether they won three of four, lost three of four, or got swept — as Marcus Stroman now gets a shot at doing to them Thursday.
But Wednesday’s 6-3 loss in a game against Jacob deGrom did put a spotlight on almost everything not held down by sticky stuff that figures to impact the Cubs decisions in the next month or so and the markets they’ll explore.
Starting pitching. Catching. Health.
Did we say starting pitching?
For the rest of baseball, the spotlight was on deGrom, who five days after leaving a start with forearm soreness left this one with a sore shoulder after just three dominant innings — a development that could impact everything from the MVP and Cy Young races in the National League to trade markets and the league’s competitive landscape.
But as the NL East-leading Mets spend the next few sleepless nights in a collective cold sweat, the NL Central-leading Cubs have plenty of their own issues to address and little time to sleep on them — cold sweat or not.
Robert Stock made that much clear Wednesday.
Stock seems like a nice fellow, but his six-walk performance gave the Cubs no chance to win in his 2021 debut and first career big-league start — the third spot starter the Cubs have used in the last six games to backfill for injuries to an already thin rotation.
The Cubs still own a share of first place and have played well enough through injuries against some of the top teams in the league to have earned their position as buyers-in-waiting regardless of three unsightly, short-handed nights in Queens.
Think they might be able to use another starting pitcher at the deadline?
“At least one,” said one Cubs official over the weekend.
Rookie Adbert Alzolay is expected back from a blister problem sometime during the upcoming homestand.
But even when the rotation was at full strength, its steady diet of short starts put unsustainable stress on a bullpen that has been one of the best in the game — a bullpen that with more innings from the starters could be part of a successful postseason equation, assuming similar production after MLB’s sticky-stuff crackdown as before.
“We can definitely use starting pitching,” manager David Ross said when asked before the game about what he’d like to see added to his roster. “We’ve got a lot of guys hurt. You can always use pitching in general, whether it’s in the bullpen or not. If there’s an elite guy out there that can add a piece to an already strong team…”
A frontline starter — perhaps, say, a Yu Darvish type — could be the impact difference for the Cubs, given general health on the roster otherwise.
Two starters and maybe another reliever?
That could be the question of the next few weeks as the Cubs ramp up phone calls that already have begun.
It could also be the kind of question that looks a lot different a week — or two or three — from now, depending on what some of the available pitchers look like once the crackdown starts Monday on foreign, sticky substances.
Consider it a complete reset for scouts and executives evaluating pitchers they might pursue next month — a process that could delay a lot of trade movement in addition to changing some of the prices, if not names driving the market.
“I think what you would watch is a lot of those numbers that supposedly the sticky stuff affects, right?” Ross said, referring to spin rate. “I mean, that’s a pretty simple formula if there’s somebody you feel like has pretty good stuff.
“Listen, I’ve been in a lot of those meetings at the trade deadline. There is not a stone unturned, and they’re going to look at every number,” he added. “They’re going to look at every performance. They’re going to look at that date. What were his numbers after that date, and what were the numbers before that date? Is that a correlation? Do a little bit of digging.
"Has this person gone through an adjustment period if they were using something?
“All those things definitely can play a factor. but I promise you our front office, I know, will be on top of finding out of every bit of information they possibly can.”
And then what? The Cubs already have made calls to feel out the markets. Some obvious-looking sellers aren’t sure how deep they want to cut. Prices have yet to be haggled.
Demand certainly will be higher than the supply of any so-called Yu Darvish types.
And what about catching?
On a day the Cubs put backup catcher P.J. Higgins on the 60-day IL because of a sore forearm that now looks like a season-ending injury, Jose Lobaton became the Cubs’ fourth backup to starting catcher Willson Contreras to make a start this season.
It was his first major-league action in three years, and he celebrated the occasion by hitting a guy in the ear trying to throw him out at second.
No wonder the Cubs have Wilson Ramos on their radar after the well-regarded 33-year-old former All-Star was designated for assignment this week by the Tigers.
“That’s an area that if Willson were to go down, that would be a huge blow to our team,” Ross said. “Even though we’ve got an experienced catcher now in Jose Lobaton, depth in that area is always a factor.”
The Cubs could get some stiff competition for Ramos, but don’t figure to stop there, regardless.
“I think there’s a lot of areas where we can improve,” Ross said.