How do Cubs shed Brewers, win the fall? Just don’t screw up these 7 things
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Depending on how you look at the Cubs heading into their two-game series against the second-place Brewers this week, they’re either so good they can out-walk a team to victory in a single inning, or they can wait until the last pitch of the game to score all the runs they need to beat the team with the best pitcher in baseball.
Or they’re the luckiest team in the National League.
Whatever this series against the hungry Brewers might say about either team with seven weeks left, the Cubs can assure themselves of another division title if they just don’t screw up these seven things:
1. Leave Anthony Rizzo right where he is for the rest of the season. He already thinks he’s the greatest leadoff hitter of all time. Not only has he proven to be the Cubs’ best option for their problematic lineup spot, but the spot has proven to be the best option for him; his on-base percentage is more than 100 points better (.446) in his 27 games at leadoff. His OPS is over 1.000 in that spot and below .800 everywhere else this year. Who knows? With time, maybe he really can be the GLHOAT.
2. Don’t mess with Cole Hamels. The Cubs bet on rediscovering the former playoff ace when they traded for the slumping lefty last month, and Hamels said he was reinvigorated by the move before reeling off three impressive starts (2-0, 1.00 ERA). Now the Cubs need to keep him on his fifth-day schedule, even if it means rearranging others at times. Hamels made a point to say he looked forward to that routine after seven straight starts for the Rangers on extra rest (with a 6.69 ERA) leading up to the deal.
3. Give Alex Rodriguez a shot with that beer. Maybe it’s coincidence, but the head-scratching rehab of $126 million pitcher Yu Darvish took a sudden pain-free turn two days after A-Rod caused Joe Maddon to go all “Hazleton” on the former Yankee star for criticizing Darvish and suggesting a clubhouse problem during during an ESPN broadcast. If Darvish’s new direction continues through another simulated game Tuesday, the Cubs might yet have the four-time All-Star for the final push.
4. Don’t wreck ’Shek. Setup man Steve Cishek has been the Cubs’ most valuable pitcher all year. He leads the entire staff in WAR (baseball-reference.com), and the No. 2 guy is on the DL (Brandon Morrow). But the hot-spot specialist with the 1.87 ERA also has as many appearances (56) in the NL as anybody except the Diamondbacks’ Brad Ziegler (59). If Cishek goes sideways down the stretch, so do the Cubs.
5. Free Kris Bryant. With all due respect to Babe Bote, the Cubs need their MVP back in the lineup, even at 80 percent. With Bryant’s shoulder ailing, the Cubs have used 10 different guys in the No. 3 spot in the order this year. With him in that spot, they’re 23-13 (.639). Bryant said over the weekend the pain is gone. So set a damn timeline already, and then make it happen.
6. Put Maddon’s scheduled cocktail with A-Rod to good use and enlist Rodriguez to join another Cubs broadcast ASAP to do his word magic on Jon Lester. It’s hard to imagine what else might work if Lester is as physically strong as he says he is and if his “stuff looks exactly the same” as it did in the first half, like Maddon says. It’s also hard to imagine the Cubs coming close to their goals this fall without a dramatic fix to whatever has caused an 8.65 ERA and 4.5 walk rate in Lester’s last eight starts.
7. Remember the No. 1 truism of the NL Central: The Brewers are the runny-nosed, half-pint, wannabe, Fonzie-licking, late-fading, always-a-pitcher-short Munchkins of the Midway. The only team with a chance of defeating the Cubs in this division is the Cubs.