The Cubs surged into first before the AS break, but now have begun to wobble in the heat of July.
Kyle Hendricks is not the old Hendricks, a pinpoint professor in the art of pitching. Teams have finally figured him out. An 88 mph fastball is not his out pitch. Batters are now sitting on change ups that are in the hitting zone. As Hendricks relies more on off-speed stuff on the corners, umpires are taking away is major advantage by calling more balls. Patient hitters and smaller strike calls is making Hendricks an average pitcher. It could change if he uses his fastball more to keep the batters honest and off-guard.
Kris Bryant was pulled from the line-up because of his shoulder issue. He said before the ASG that it was an injury that he will have to deal with throughout the season. But word is that he cannot even swing the bat. That means a probable DL stint and the return of Bote at third. Having Bryant out of the line-up puts more pressure on Rizzo, who is trying to hit his way out of his own personal slump by leading off. But Maddon will have to move Rizzo out of the #1 spot to increase scoring chances if Bryant goes on the DL.
Yu Darvish is becoming a real bad issue. The Cubs were happy that Darvish yesterday threw 16 pitches off the mound after three weeks of rest. Sixteen pitches is not a start. It seems that Darvish's progress has been painstakingly slow. The front office is counting more on Drew Smyly coming off Tommy John surgery than Darvish. Montgomery was great when he first took Darvish's spot in the rotation, but now after a half dozen starts, he is falling back into being an average starter (which ironically is better than the Cubs original 4th and 5th starters).
Javy Baez is trying to do too much. He got throw out again for aggressive baserunning. He needs to calm down and let the team win games. Baez is the Cubs current MVP. He is the only true five tool player on the roster who can make exciting plays at the plate and in the field. But Baez has a history of coming unglued at the bat. Let us see if he has matured enough to adjust to his new leader-by-example role.
The bullpen was re-tooled in order to be ready for the post-season. Brandon Morrow was the new closer, and Maddon kept him on the light work load. But Morrow got hurt anyway (which is his M.O.). The rotation has been sub-par all year, with very few quality starts. More times than not, starters are barely throwing five innings - - - which taxes the bullpen to the extreme that now four different position players have thrown in relief. Jesse Chavez acquisition was needed to find a "rubber" arm veteran who can do long relief, short relief, close and spot start. But asking Chavez to be the bullpen godsend is asking too much.
The Cubs offense still runs in feast or famine mode. They score a lot of runs, or they score very little. Consistency in the batting order could be blamed for the hot and cold mentality, but Maddon would disagree. He wants to use his entire roster to keep them fresh and in the game. But since the ASG, he has literally given up midway through 2 games (for losses).
The Cubs probably need to make a big move at the trade deadline, but they do not have any great minor league prospects to trade. And Theo and Jed are in love with "their" guys to trade away Happ, Schwarber or Almora.