When the Cubs reached the halfway point of the 2022 season this week, they were on pace for their most losses in nearly a decade — even after an 8-3 win over the contending Brewers that improved their record to 33-48.
Some pundits in town, including our David Kaplan, have said this season is worse than even 2012 — the first season of the Cubs' last rebuild when they lost 100 games for the third time ever.
And that's before their looming trade deadline selloff.
But things may not be as bad as they look. The Cubs won five of six series entering this week's series in Los Angeles, four against playoff contenders, with the lone loss against the Pirates.
The Aug. 2 deadline and continued developments of young players will define the second half. In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the top storylines that defined the first 81 games.
In the two weeks from June 22 through Wednesday, only one player in baseball produced more WAR — according to FanGraphs — than Hoerner’s 1.0: Cardinals All-Star Nolan Arenado (1.2).
That’s just one stat to describe Hoerner’s impressive all-around season.
Hoerner entered Thursday hitting .302 with a .340 on-base percentage. He’s impressed in his first extended run at shortstop, both by the eye test and the metrics, leading all qualified shortstops in Outs Above Average.
"Playing the complete game is something I take a lot of pride in," Hoerner said recently. "My favorite players growing up always did it.
As the Cubs go through this transition, Hoerner is showing he’ll be a key piece to their future.
Mixed money bags
It was an up-and-down first half for Seiya Suzuki and Marcus Stroman, the Cubs’ two biggest offseason acquisitions.
The Cubs anticipated Suzuki would go through a transition period in his first season facing big-league pitching. He had a torrid April at the plate, slowed down in May and then went on the injured list with a sprained left ring finger, missing over a month.
He returned from the IL in emphatic fashion this week, hitting an inside-the-park home run Monday and an over-the-fence homer Tuesday.
Stroman, who’s talked this season about struggling to find his rhythm following the abbreviated spring training, was inconsistent in April before a good May.
He said his shoulder never felt right after missing two weeks in May due to a bout with COVID-19 and landed on the IL with shoulder inflammation in early June. He could rejoin the Cubs rotation this weekend.
For both Suzuki and Stroman, the second half will be the defining stretch of their debut seasons with the Cubs.
When it rains, it pours
The Cubs were already struggling and had a losing record when everything collapsed in early June. They lost 10 straight games from June 4-16, including being outscored by 20+ runs in consecutive series.
Summing up the issues was eighty percent of their expected Opening Day rotation either being on the injured list (Wade Miley, Drew Smyly, Stroman) or otherwise unavailable (Hendricks).
Frank Schwindel had as many pitching appearances (two) as the foursome combined during the skid.
Miley, who missed a month with a shoulder strain, exited his return start June 10 after three innings with the same issue.
Hendricks returned from a 13-day prescribed rest period and started the eighth loss of the skid.
Suzuki was also on the IL with his finger injury.
A pleasant surprise
Manager David Ross called Christopher Morel “dynamic” when the Cubs promoted him from Double-A in May. The 23-year-old has been as advertised.
Morel wasn’t among the Cubs’ top-20 prospect on numerous evaluators’ lists before that promotion but has been a pleasant surprise with his contributions.
Morel has played four different positions, including everyday reps in center field. He got an extended run at the leadoff spot and has been good at the plate, faring well in recent weeks after his production slowed.
Look, ma, homegrown arms
The Cubs' failure to develop homegrown pitching in their last competitive window is well documented. But the first 81 games offered a promising development in that area. Literally.
Justin Steele and Keegan Thompson held down the rotation amid all its injuries and are coming into their own as big-league starters.
Scott Effross has emerged as one of Ross' go-to relievers in the bullpen and is among baseball's leaders in appearances.
Top pitching prospect Caleb Kilian made his big-league debut and showed big-league stuff but with mixed results at best before getting optioned back to Triple-A.
Deal of the season
The Cubs and Willson Contreras were hours away from an arbitration hearing in New York when they settled with a $9.625 agreement for 2022.
Arbitration hearings, which typically happen before the season and can be messy, were pushed back due to MLB’s lockout.
While the Cubs and Contreras came to terms to avoid the hearing, he’s still expected to be traded before the deadline in a few weeks.
Moment of a lifetime
With respect to Morel's home run in his first career plate appearance, the Contreras' brothers first time playing on the same big-league field takes the cake as the best moment from the Cubs' first 81 games.
Willson and William Contreras not only squared off June 18 at Wrigley Field but each had memorable performances. Willson went 3-for-5 and William 2-for-4.