The cavalry is not on the way. Whatever the Cubs do in the second half of the season will depend on most of the same players who were great for the first month or so and not so great for the next two. And that’s a good thing.
Yes, the Cubs certainly will be helped by the return of leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler and his .398 on-base percentage. But the team didn’t struggle solely because he was out with a hamstring injury. And if you believe Jorge Soler’s absence has been the only thing stopping this team from a prolonged run, I have some Syrian real-estate opportunities I’d like to discuss with you.
The Cubs struggled because the bullpen struggled, because too many hitters struggled and because even the strength of the team, the starting rotation, struggled toward the end of the first half.
The Cubs need Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Addison Russell and Jason Heyward to be better a lot more than they need Soler, Tommy La Stella and Chris Coghlan to get/stay healthy. At some point, grizzled catcher David Ross will come off the disabled list, odes will be written and heartstrings will be plucked. But the Cubs will be much better off if regular catcher Miguel Montero hits closer to his career average (.259) than to what he has hit this season (.201).
There is every reason to believe that underneath the mediocre team of the last few months is the same team that started the season 25-6 — a record built almost entirely without left-fielder Kyle Schwarber, lost for the season with a knee injury. This is a talented group of players that, when everything is clicking, is among the best in baseball. That doesn’t go away because of a 27-29 record since May 10.
Arrieta doesn’t have to have the historic second half that he had last season, but he clearly has to be better than the pitcher who finished seven innings just once since the beginning of June. And the Cubs need Lester to start off the second half well and Lackey to not act his age (37).
They will rely on all the front-line players who got them to a 53-35 first-half record. And that’s a good thing.