There aren’t four longer days than the All-Star break. There’s nothing to fill the time for those of us that aren’t constructive enough to fill the time ourselves. I curse the union’s name for extending this to a fourth day. Three was hard enough.
So while we sit here in the desert of July, I was reflecting on what I wrote in the Brunch on Cubs Den on Sunday. And it struck me just how little we KNOW about this Cubs team. We think a lot of things, but there are few things we can write down in pen. Here they are (I think).
-Jake Arrieta is the best Cubs pitcher since Mark Prior. I know, that sounds weird to say, but it really is. Arrieta’s 2014 was better than any Cub pitcher put up since Prior’s 7.3 WAR season of 2003. Carlos Zambrano never topped it. Neither did Kerry Wood. That’s kind of amazing to think about that the Cubs went a full 12 years without a 5-WAR pitcher. And Arrieta is almost certainly going to double them up this season, which no Cubs pitcher has done since Greg Maddux, and he strung three together… and then put up another six in a row with the Braves, and they were all 7+ WAR seasons (great work there, Himes!).
-Anthony Rizzo is really good. I don’t think that can be disputed at this point.
…and that’s kinda it?
We’re pretty sure we know Kris Bryant is really, really good. And yet you can’t shake the feeling that he’ll have a pretty nasty three-week or two-week stretch somewhere around here before he emerges and goes on to eat the world.
But beyond that it’s kind of all guesswork. Starlin Castro has had three of the most bi-polar seasons imaginable, and we don’t know what the truth is now or whether he’ll even still be here in four weeks. Strangely, Chris Coghlan since his BABIP straightened out has been one of the more consistent and effective Cubs and yet he’d probably be the first one on the chopping block if you asked most fans where they’re looking to upgrade.
It’s all through the lineup and staff. Kyle Hendricks hasn’t given up a run in 20.1 innings but that streak is against the Mets, Stanton-less Marlins, and the White Sox. Still impressive, but can you say for sure what you’ve got here? Jon Lester has underlying numbers that say he’s been pretty effective, and yet I’m not the only one who’s pretty tense watching his starts at the moment. Jason Hammel isn’t the guy who had the league’s best WHIP for a while… right?
Miguel Montero… this might be what he is. His offense has actually improved from his last two years in Arizona slightly, with a 101 +wRC when he was sub-90 in Phoenix. His defense has been as solid as advertised. And at 32, it’s probably folly to expect a major upswing. We also know he’s going to pull a muscle in his back over-swinging at a pitch with men on base.
Did anyone really think Jorge Soler would have just four homers? Even if you told me before the year he would miss three weeks before the break, I would still guess he would have been up around 10. And the funny thing is absolutely no one is worried about his power. I feel like Jorge’s August could be something we talk about for a very long time.
There’s no point in claiming to know anything about a bullpen, because no one knows anything about a bullpen. That’s the very nature of the thing.
I suppose all that unknown can make this Cubs team exciting. It could kind of go anywhere. It also makes it terrifying. Arrieta is appointment television, and then the other four days really just about anything could happen.
I also feel that this lack of knowns is probably why you’ll see a conservative front office before the deadline. They’ll shore up the rotation, and maybe another bench bat/reliever and that’s it. But they’re not going hog wild on a team that they can’t possibly have the full measure of yet. And those bench bats could be Baez/La Stella/Schwarber, or more to the point the players they move to the bench. If you go hard on a team that you don’t have a lot of answers on and a lot of those answers come up bad, well, then things don’t look so rosy.
I know, enjoy the ride. It’s been so long. But now is when it kinda starts to get real. I can’t be the only one already thinking about what that coin flip game is going to be like around here in October. Or maybe it’s just that I booked a trip to follow the Northside Nine to San Francisco, and really want those games to be important.