Only a handful of days ago the Chicago Cubs were living on cloud nine and feeling pretty good about themselves; having collected wins against the Dodgers with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the mound no less. Then a sharp dose of reality set in.
After losing the next two against the left coasters, the Cubs found themselves looking in the eye of their goliath.
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Three days later, here we sit at 40-35 licking the wounds after the latest beat down at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. While it looked like Kris Bryant was finding the power stroke in Chicago, he, along with just about everyone not named Anthony Rizzo, forgot to pack their bats on the trip down I-55.
The Cubs struggled to produce a big hit when they needed it and the Cardinals showed off why they control the best record in baseball. They became the latest victims of the “Next person up” approach used by the Cardinals to describe their unshaken confidence when a player gets hurt.
After this weekend, two things have become clear.
First, it’s officially gut-check time for this team. We are now roughly at the halfway point in the season and the Cubs find themselves 10.5 games out of first in the N.L. Central and have lost control of the last wildcard slot to the Giants.
Before long, this team will have to decide if they are going for it now or if it will be better to hold back. Starlin Castro, among others, has struggled recently and while the team has played well at times, Rizzo can’t continue to lead the team in every significant offensive category.
The pitching staff has taken its lumps while the rotation seems to be in a constant state of concern. Jon Lester is still looking for the ace-like stuff and until he does, the supporting cast behind him will follow him good or bad.
Secondly, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have a much better picture of how this team is made up. It’s time to add front end pitching, especially if they hope to make a run in a couple of months. For the rest of this roster, I try to keep it in perspective that most of these guys are still very young.
Learning how to win at the big leagues is tough, doing it when you’re 23-years-old is even harder. By season’s end, it will be easy to see where we need to fill holes.
It’s encouraging to see the Cubs play well, and do it seemingly ahead of schedule. Before the Chicago Bulls started winning, they had to learn how to beat the Pistons. For the Blackhawks, it was the Red Wings. Maybe the Cardinals represent that mountain to climb.
Only concern now for this young team is how high they’ll have to climb to find that summit.