[UPDATED] Tomorrow Never Knows: Cubs Midseason Review
The Cubs reemerge from the All-Star break in a position few expected. With 75 games left in the regular season, they are entrenched in a wild card position. This comes after five straight years of finishing fifth place in the N.L Central. It’s not a surprise that the Cubs are much improved. Their front office has been slowly rebuilding the talent in the organization since Theo Epstein took over as president. But even the most optimistic Cubs fans didn’t expect a roster relying on talented yet inexperienced young players to spend much of first half in a playoff position.
The performance of the Cubs pitching staff has raised a few eyebrows for many reasons. First and foremost is ace Jon Lester. When he signed with the Cubs last offseason, he brought an aura of respectability to the starting rotation. Three months into his Cubs career, Lester has been let’s be kind and say underwhelming. Jake Arrieta however has led the staff in wins and facial hair. He’s stopped losing streaks and won games the Cubs had no business winning. Approaching the trade deadline the Cubs may add a pitcher to round out the rotation, but it’s not an absolute necessity because the team will use off days to skip the fifth starter. After a troublesome start, the bullpen has been solid and will receive some relief when veteran Rafael Soriano is finished with his rehab assignment.
The offense, on the other hand, has struggled to find consistency. While Kris Bryant has lived up to lofty expectations, several players have turned in disappointing performances. Leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler is batting a woeful .232 with a .308 on-base percentage. However, as an eight-year veteran, it’s a safe bet that he’ll turn in a second-half performance closer to his career average. It’s a little harder to be optimistic about Starlin Castro. Other than a couple of game winning singles, Castro has struggled and is having the worst season of his career. At this point in his development, Castro is who he is. All the Cubs can do is hope for a single or two a game and pray he doesn’t cost them a win in the field.
As it looks right now, the Cubs will hope to boost their lagging offense with the return of Jorge Soler and the inevitable call-up of Kyle Schwarber. Soler has been up and down all season, but with warm months ahead the Cubs are hoping his bat heats up as well. Catcher Miguel Montero's thumb injury has thrown a kink into the Kyle Schwarber saga. Common knowledge was the Cubs were going to let Schwarber finish his catching apprenticeship in the minors before calling him up to pinch hit and play left field late in the season. But if Montero ends up on the disabled list, Schwarber may be called up earlier than expected. Either way Schwarber's much-hyped bat will be making an appearance on the North Side soon.
When the Cubs return to the field Friday against the Braves, they'll be a favorite to make the playoffs. That brings with it the pressure to win every night as the finish line draws closer. Few players on this team have been in that position. To keep the team from losing their foothold the veterans—we̵re looking at you Lester—will need to lead the way and the youngsters will have to play like they’ve been here before. Will they make it or fall short? It’s hard to say but either way this season will prove invaluable to a team that is building to become a World Series contender year after year.
Updated 2:30 p.m. MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo reported Thursday the Cubs will call up Kyle Schwarber to join the team in Atlanta on Friday. Schwarber will replace catcher Miguel Montero who is out with a thumb injury.