Mercifully, the Chicago Cubs have reached the All-Star break, but true Cub fans know that the best is yet to come.
That may be hard to believe for many of us after watching the horror that unfolded over the last few weeks. Ending the first half of the season winning only six of 21 games is not how this was supposed to go. But, alas, the Cubs did just that.
What was a record that was best in the league and 27 games over .500 now trails the San Francisco Giants for the league lead.
But, let’s think back to the prior years. The last time the Cubs had a record close to what it is now was back in 2008. On July 5th of that year, the Cubs were 52-36, and would go into the All-Star break with a 57-38 record.
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The result of that year: Division Title and Playoffs. However, those Cubs did not have a stretch as this team just completed. Their record in the second half of the season was also 40-26. Just keep that in mind.
We can also look back to 2007 for some quality information. The Cubs were 22-31 on June 2nd, winning only 2 games in a span of twelve. They finished the first half of the season on a 12-6 streak, and with a 44-43 record. The second half of the season, the team went 41-34 and winning the NL Central. The 12-6 streak the Cubs went on in 2007 also started on June 20.
Let’s not forget the 2015 Cubs, who went 50-25 in the second half of the season.
Why mention this? What is the purpose of this information? The Cubs have a history of being a second half team, especially in a year they make it to the playoffs. Look at the records. Even look into the magical and infamous 2003 season. The Cubs were 47-47 at the All-Star Break, yet went 41-27 in the second half to make the playoffs. See, the best is yet to come.
The two main keys to a second half run: Dexter Fowler and a move to fix the bullpen. For today, let’s just talk line-up.
While Bryant and Rizzo are NL MVP candidates and Willson Contreras and Albert Almora, Jr., have impressed in their debuts, Fowler is the key to the Cubs line-up. Remember the Cubs record during the last 21 games? That coincides with the day Fowler hit the disabled list. His presences in the top of the line-up set everyone else in place.
Think about it for a second. I bet you can name the batting order for the first three months of the season: Fowler, Jason Heyward, Bryant, Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jorge Soler, David Ross, Miguel Montero, Addison Russell, pitcher. There may be some variation, but that was the most common line-up. In contract, Joe Maddon has utilized five different line-ups in the last fives games.
With switch-hitting Fowler healthy, the keys to the offensive engine are in his hands. The decision on whom to place in the second spot of the order is up to Maddon. The numbers do not lie, however. Zobrist is batting .309 when slated in the fifth spot, with 31 RBI.
The six spot of the order could go to Contreras. He has only batted there four times but has two hits including a home run. But he has performed well regardless of placement in the line-up. But then Heyward is hitting .435 since moving to the sixth spot.
The true debate is between Russell and whoever plays LF on a regular basis. For this debate, let’s say that is Almora. Between the two, I would place Russell behind Fowler. The shortstops best work at the plate has come with runners on or in scoring position, performing with an OPS of .811.
In other words, get Fowler on, let Russell push him over. That sets a team up to score. A lot. So, from my view, the most fearsome lineup for the Cubs in the second half would be:
Fowler (CF), Russell (SS), Bryant (3B), Rizzo (1B), Zobrist (2B), Heyward (RF), Contreras (C), Pitcher, Almora, Jr (LF).
Get the forks, folks! The appetizers and salads are finished and the main course is on its way! The best is yet to come!