by Richard Kagan
Not long ago, the Cubs were a .500 team, scuffling to get untracked.
Then the All-Star break came, and news of a big trade with the White Sox who got some great prospects in return for starting pitcher Jose Quintana. Since that trade, the Cubs have gone 13-3 and catapulted out of mediocrity to lead the NL Central Division by 2.5 games over the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs are now eight games over .500 and things are looking decidedly brighter for the Northsiders.
It’s been the starting pitching that has lead the Cubs. Everyone has been pitching great. It’s as if Quintana gave the staff a jolt, a wake-up call. And, people had heard the call.
Now, the July 31st trade deadline approaches and Theo Epstein and company are rumored to be working on a deal that sends some Cubs prospects, including Jeimer Candeleria to Detroit for lefty Justin Wilson and catcher Alex Avila. It looks like this trade may happen. If it does, it provides manager Joe Maddon with a reserve catcher to back up Willson Contreras, who has played so well in the month of July. If he had played this way before the All-Star game, he might have been named.
The mood in the clubhouse is upbeat. Anthony Rizzo said the over all feeling is one of confidence and the players have confidence in the front office to make moves that will help the club.
In yesterday’s game in Milwaukee, Victor Caratini, the rookie catcher, launched his first home run of the season to break a 2-2 tie in the seventh inning and gave the Cubs a 3-2 lead. Kris Bryant hit a long drive to left that hit the foul pole and was declared a HR, it was Bryant’s 20th of the season, giving the Cubbies a 4-2 lead in this taut series. John Lackey went 6 innings, allowing 2 runs, seven strikouts, and five hits. He gave up another home run to Domingo Santana, a two run shot that tied the game in the 6th.
But Caratini saved his bacon. Usually a rookie hits a home run and it is almost an after-thought. It usually does not become the difference maker in such an important game for teams vying for the top spot in the Division. But the home run stood and Bryant hit another one to make Caratini’s really count.
The Cubs are playing well. The need to hit with more alacrity. Pound the ball. They have players that can connect. Their averages are slowly beginning to climb. Javy Baez does strike out a lot. But he hits for power too. Kyle Schwarber had a great game the other day, hitting two home runs and a triple. Willson Contreras practically carried the team in July with his torrid hitting. Ben Zobrist has been hitting the ball more.
They need to keep it up. August is coming and that’s when baseball gets a bit more serious –and fun to watch.