There was no telling how the Cubs’ front office would handle what was thought to be a “year of transition”. Following Theo Epstein’s departure, Jed Hoyer’s promotion to team president and the team’s superstars entering the regular season with no contract extensions, it appeared as if things were going to be drastically different in 2021.
Many were resigned to what was thought to be the fate of the team, blowing up what remained of their core and starting a rebuild. But what was going to happen at or near the July trade deadline was always going to be up to the team’s play on the field and being somewhere in the middle wasn’t going to make the decisions any easier.
But with a 35-27 record through 62 games and sitting atop the National League Central in a tie for first place with the Brewers, the Cubs have been pointing upward for over a month.
“I think we’re pretty damn good, yeah,” manager David Ross said last week. “I think these guys believe that. I think they know that.”
The Cubs entered this month playing some of the best baseball in the league before embarking on what was going to be a tough West Coast trip against the NL West-leading Giants and second-place Padres. The road trip didn’t start as planned, as the Cubs went 1-3 in San Francisco and after dropping the first game in San Diego, it didn’t look like they would have much luck.
But after winning the last two games against the Padres with a fraction of their lineup to finish the trip with a 3-4 record, they have to be returning to Wrigley Field this weekend feeling pretty good.
“It was a nice way to finish up [the road trip]. We know we got a lot of good teams in this stretch,” Ross said. “I think the goal every time you play a series is to get a win and try to win that series. That’s what we did here in San Diego. . . . That’s a nice finish after the way the road trip started.”
It’ll be interesting to see what happens over the next month as it appears that the Cubs’ superstars aren’t going to be on the move this season. And if the team isn’t looking to subtract from the roster, it makes adding the only real alternative. Increased capacities at Wrigley Field and improved revenues make possible additions more realistic.
“I don’t put any much thought into [rumors]. It’s wasted energy,” Kris Bryant said. “Whatever happens is going to happen. But, it’s cool to hear, when I’m running out to the outfield in Wrigley, all the fans saying they want me. It definitely makes me feel much better.”
“As far as flexibility, we’ve had these projections for a little bit and feel like we’re a bit ahead of schedule,” Hoyer said last month. “There’s definitely flexibility to make moves in-season if the right thing presents itself.”
All throughout baseball this season teams have had to navigate a barrage of injuries, and when it comes down to who will win the division, it’s who stays the healthiest will likely be a major deciding factor.
The Cubs and Brewers, who are tied for first place in the division, both have managed to stay afloat despite dealing with major injuries. The Cardinals, who start a three-game series next against the Cubs, have had injuries to their starting pitching and are in a downward spiral.
For the Cubs, the fact that they’ve been able to win consistently and do it against quality opponents without having their full lineup shouldn’t be ignored.
And while they’ve found success with the help of rookie sensation Patrick Wisdom’s red-hot June, some bounce-back performances from the starters and continued success of the bullpen, things won’t stop with a series against the Mets in New York and one with the Dodgers in Los Angeles before closing the month against the Brewers.
“I feel like we’re just starting, honestly,” Bryant said. “We kind of just started and then we were done [in 2020]. Last year was a completely different situation than we have right now. It’s cool to compare the two and realize that, ‘Hey, we still have over 100 more games.’ ”