Cubs

Cubs need trade-deadline pitching help if they’re serious about World Series

A question for Cubs fans, especially those of you with knives at the ready for the slightest criticism of your beloved franchise:

Does this team look like a World Series champion right now?

If you answered “yes,’’ I would suggest a vision test and perhaps a side trip to a mental-health professional who specializes in delusions of grandeur.

If you answered “no,’’ I commend your perception and the cut of your jib.

Cubs president Theo Epstein needs to pull the trigger on a trade to improve his team's pitching. (Getty Images)

This matters because the July 31 trade deadline is fast approaching. The Cubs were 14 games over .500 (52-38) as of Friday afternoon, and although that’s good, it’s not good enough. If the whole idea is to win a World Series – breaking news: it is – then they need help in the rotation or the bullpen or both.

But forget the Cubs’ record for a moment. Don’t look at the up-and-down nature of the season to date, even though it has caused an outbreak of motion sickness. Don’t even look at the Brewers, who aren’t going away in the National League Central.

Look at the Red Sox (66-29), the Yankees (61-31) and the Astros (62-34).

Tell me: Can the Cubs match their talent levels?

The Yankees have the best bullpen in baseball. The Astros have the best rotation. The Red Sox have starter Chris Sale, who might be the most frightening pitcher for a hitter to face in baseball history. The Cubs have a good, but not great, rotation and bullpen. It’s going to take great to win the World Series. They recognized that in 2016, when they threw civic caution to the wind and top prospect Gleyber Torres to the Yankees in exchange for closer Aroldis Chapman, who had served a suspension for domestic violence earlier that season. He helped them win a World Series.

They’re in a similar position now as they were in 2016, when they were 55-35 after 90 games. It’s why they need to strike while they can.

There are good relievers out there – the Reds’ Raisel Iglesias, the Orioles’ Zach Britton and the Padres’ Brad Hand, among others. There are good starters available – the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ, and the Rays’ Chris Archer (though he has been hurt) and Nathan Eovaldi, among others.

The Cubs don’t have much top minor-league talent to offer, thanks in part to last year’s Jose Quintana trade. They might have to move a big-league player. Would they have the stomach to trade shortstop Addison Russell? They might need to if they’re serious about going for it again this season.

And if they were to shock the world (and ruin the Brewers’ day) by acquiring Baltimore shortstop Manny Machado, Russell almost surely would be part of that deal.

Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have said that there’s enough talent in the clubhouse to compete for a title this season. It’s not clear if they actually mean it or if they’re saying what baseball officials always say when they don’t want to upset anyone before the trade deadline. Here’s hoping for the latter.

The Cubs foresee slumping players having better second halves and injured players reclaiming good health. Can they count on Yu Darvish, who has struggled with injury and illness? It’s really not even a question. They have to. They have to believe that he’ll eventually revert to being the great pitcher he has been at times in the past. But they might as well trade for some insurance in case he doesn’t.

They believe Kyle Hendricks will get back to being the precision diamond cutter he has been most of his career. But some help wouldn’t hurt.

Will Jon Lester continue pitching the way he has so far (11-2, 2.45 earned-run average)? You’d like to think so, but why leave things to chance when you can improve the ball club?

Has Tyler Chatwood given anyone reason to trust him?

There’s a sentiment among a segment of the faithful that better years are ahead for the Cubs and that it would be reckless to be bold now in the trade market. But tomorrow isn’t promised, as the saying goes. Next season and the season after aren’t either, no how much more money the Cubs believe they’ll get in a new TV deal. When you have a chance to win it now, you go all in.

The only thing that matters for the Cubs is a World Series title. They won one two years ago, realized they adore champagne and know there’s no going back to whatever life tasted like before it. Probably like orange Gatorade.

Epstein built this year’s model to win another championship, which is why expectations are so high. But belief levels around town don’t seem quite so elevated. A trade would help. If the goal is indeed a title in 2018, standing pat isn’t an option.

Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.