Cubs

/ by Tony Andracki
Presented By Cubs Insiders
Cubs

As the Cubs limp into the All-Star Break, they know full well they're not playing their best brand of baseball.

Despite another listless loss — this time a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Eloy Jimenez and the White Sox Sunday afternoon — the Cubs are also exuding an unwavering confidence that things will turn and this year will be different than the end of last season.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning in sole possession of first place in the National League Central and they are also wrapping up a stretch in which they played 52 games in 54 days dating back to the middle of May. 

This four-day break will be a nice physical reprieve for the Cubs, but it will also be a mental breather for a team that has been making uncharacteristic mistakes the last couple weeks.

"I don't care what you do [as a job] — you do that for how many days straight, you get sick of your colleagues," Anthony Rizzo said. "We knew that was our toughest stretch and after the break, we're gonna pretty much get regular off-days. Those off-days are crucial, especially towards the end of the year."

Rizzo joked that even Friday's day off followed by a night game on the South Side felt like an All-Star Break given the way the schedule has been for this team the last couple months.

The Cubs can also take solace in the fact that they are 189-103 after the All-Star Break under Joe Maddon. That's a .647 winning percentage and 16 games better than the next closest team in the NL (Dodgers) since the start of 2015. 

 

"I think as a team, we do well [after the break] and I think a lot of players here individually have really good second halves, too," Kris Bryant said. "But you can't always lean on your track record. Each year's different. Every team's coming for us. Our division's more competitive. Just the bottom line. We just have to play better. I don't think what we've done in the first half is gonna be good enough."

Before Sunday's Crosstown series finale, Maddon talked up his team's resiliency and believes the Cubs' best baseball is ahead of them.

When asked why he's so confident, the veteran manager explained how much he believes in the guys in the clubhouse and considers it more of a "feel" thing than something tangible he can point to.

"On a daily basis, I know what I feel. I know what this group feels like. I watch the rest of the league. I know what they feel like. I know how we're capable of competing and playing," Maddon said. "We're in a decent spot right now and have not come anywhere close to playing our best baseball. And I really want to believe that's around the corner. 

"We need to tighten things up. Defensively, [Saturday], you saw a couple perfect examples of what I'm talking about, which is definitely within our realm of being able to take it to another level. So to be in a spot we're in, it's not horrible and I know we're gonna play better. 

"I trust our guys, I believe in our guys and you're gonna see a better brand of all this in the second half. The rest of the league's good; they've gotten better. But I still believe our best ball is ahead of us, which is gonna carry us."

It's fair to assume the Cubs are going to play better baseball given a track record of success that's approaching a half-decade and a clubhouse filled with a mix of battle-tested veterans and young players who experienced the pinnacle of success early in their careers.

It's also easy to empathize with the "sky is falling" section of the fanbase given how the Cubs played in the second half of last season and then followed that with a rocky first half of the current campaign.

So what makes Rizzo feel like the Cubs will be fine over the final 72 games of the season?

"Kris Bryant. Jason Heyward. Addison Russell. Jon Lester. Cole Hamels. Kyle Schwarber. Craig Kimbrel. Javy Baez. The whole 25-man roster," Rizzo said as he went around the visiting locker room at Guaranteed Rate Field and picked out any name he saw at that moment. 

Rizzo and Maddon both stressed the need for the Cubs to play looser and worry more about having fun than placing undue pressure on themselves to be afraid of making mistakes. That's been something Maddon has been discussing for the last couple weeks while his team has struggled to stay afloat in a tough division and league.

 

"We just haven't played as well as we're capable of, but we've hung together pretty well and I think that's important," Maddon said. "...The group in general — the way we interact — is a strong point. Overall, the starting pitching has been pretty good. The team on the field — some really impressive offensive numbers. But we're still looking for the consistent at-bat where we force the pitcher to throw the ball over the plate. 

"That, to me, is what we need to really become the elite team we're capable of being."