Halfway to the trade deadline, can the Cubs turn around their season?

The Cubs’ last homestand sent mixed messages.

SHARE Halfway to the trade deadline, can the Cubs turn around their season?
The Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom, right, is congratulated by Mike Tauchman after hitting a three-run home run against the Reds at Wrigley Field on May 28.

The Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom, right, is congratulated by Mike Tauchman after hitting a three-run home run against the Reds at Wrigley Field on May 28.

Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Cubs’ last homestand sent a dizzying set of mixed messages. Series wins over the Rays, the best team in baseball, and the Mets, who are in the postseason running, bookended a sweep by the once-cellar-dwelling Reds.

“That’s just part of this dang game that we play that can be frustrating sometimes,” manager David Ross said.

That kind of identity crisis has been a hallmark of the season. The Cubs (24-31) started out the year outplaying expectations. Now they sit in last place in the division.

“We’re only two months in,” outfielder Ian Happ said. “We have an opportunity to go on a little bit of a run and have a really good June and then see where we’re at by the time the [All-Star] break comes.”

More than a third of the way through the season, if the Cubs were in almost any other division, they’d be approaching the point where pointing to small sample sizes isn’t convincing. But they’re in the National League Central. Even after a brutal May, they’re just 4½ games behind the Brewers, who have a precarious hold on the lead.

Look at the American League East for contrast. The second-place Orioles (35-21) have almost that much ground to make up to catch the Rays (40-18).

“Like I tell the boys, we just need to try to not get in those big losing streaks,” reliever Adbert Alzolay said. “I feel like the last two years, that is something that has been affecting us. ... It’s just keeping the same energy from the get-go. I believe we have a great group of guys in this locker room, and I believe we have the talent to do this.”

The few remaining Cubs from the first half of 2021, including Alzolay and Happ, know how a June performance can dictate the front office’s approach to the trade deadline. That season, the Cubs had almost the inverse record, 30-23, entering June. But an 11-game losing streak from June 25 to July 6 solidified the plan to break up the core.

Now, nothing so dramatic is at stake. The Cubs aren’t going to tear down what they’ve spent the last couple of years building. But the next month or so could set the course for either a playoff push or another year of trading away talent.

“You want to act with conviction when you get there — either direction,” team president Jed Hoyer said last week. “And so, like I’ve said all along, I want nothing more than to be on the other side of the transaction.”

He makes those decisions with the standings and on-field product in mind.

No pressure.

“The responsibility of the players is to go out and keep doing the same things,” Happ said. “Keep doing the little things that help you win games and not press. ... I think [with] the guys in this room, with the experience, that won’t be a problem.”

June begins for the Cubs with a 10-game West Coast trip to face the Padres, Angels and Giants. For a Jekyll and Hyde team, the outcome will depend on which version shows up more often — the one that got off to a well-rounded start or the one searching for the big hit for games on end.

The one that was swept by the Reds or the one that won two of three close contests against the Rays.

ON DECK

CUBS AT PADRES

Friday: Jameson Taillon (0-3, 8.04 ERA) vs. Michael Wacha (5-1, 3.45), 8:40 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM

Saturday: Drew Smyly (5-2, 3.45) vs. Yu Darvish (3-4, 4.61), 9:10 p.m., Marquee, FS1, 670-AM

Sunday: Marcus Stroman (5-4, 2.59) vs. Ryan Weathers (1-3, 4.28), 4:30 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM

Monday: Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 3.86) vs. Blake Snell (1-6, 4.50), 8:10 p.m., Marquee 670-AM

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