Chicago Cubs: Maybe not the team to beat, but still not out of it

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 24: Chicago Cubs fans celebrate while Javier Baez
MIAMI, FL - JUNE 24: Chicago Cubs fans celebrate while Javier Baez /

When players at All-Star weekend were asked if the Chicago Cubs were still the “team to beat,” they didn’t laugh. If other players on other teams still see the potential, why can’t we?

I’ll be honest; I found this somewhat confusing. The Chicago Cubs are the defending champions. But that doesn’t mean you’re the “team to beat.” Los Angeles Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts said about as much earlier this year. And I can’t say I blame him. But when the Chicago Sun-Times asked players from the five teams with a better record than the Cubs what they thought? The answers might surprise you.

First, I know what you’re thinking. There are only five teams with a better record than the 43-45 Cubs? Yep. Look at it for yourself. It’s the truth. Now, how about what the players said from some of the teams that have become this year’s Cubs?

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"“The Cubs are a great team,” Nats right fielder Harper said. “They’re still a really, really good team. There’s a long ways to go. I think the biggest thing for baseball players is that’s why the season is so long.“You can never count the Cubs out. They’ve got a great manager, great team, good pitching staff and veteran guys on the team that run the clubhouse.”"

Here’s the rub here for me. I’m not a fan of Bryce Harper. I’m not sure it’s all justified, but it’s just the way I am. But this was a relatively PC answer. It’s the truth in the sense that it is a good team, with players performing poorly. The Cubs can turn this around, and for the exact reason, Harper said. It’s a long season. But maybe not the pitching staff thing. Too much PC, Harper.

What about the team that’s leading the Cubs in the Central, the Milwaukee Brewers? Brewers closer Corey Knebel was..vague.

"“Are the Cubs the team to beat?” Brewers closer Knebel said. “I mean, I don’t really know how to answer that. Let’s just see how it plays out.”"

I feel like Knebel is a magician of getting out of these tough questions. Rule number one? Answer the question with a question. Well played, sir.

Former Cub DJ LeMahieu was honest in his assessment of the Cubs. And remember, Chicago is where he began his big-league career.

"“Yeah, they’re the team to beat,” said Rockies second baseman LeMahieu“They’re not having the year that they would like, but they’re the defending champs. They’re going to have a good second half.”"

So LeMahieu adheres to the winner of last year is still the team to beat. There’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe, deep down, he wishes he was Ben Zobrist. Still with the Cubs. Or not. But I can’t dispute his logic.

What does the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jake Lamb think about the Cubs season?

"“I don’t know about the 2017 Cubs,” Lamb said."

It’s raw, unedited. I definitely didn’t hate it. But it also offered very little insight. In his defense, Lamb and the Diamondbacks haven’t played the Cubs yet. So his thoughts on them were based on–I don’t know. Maybe he’s still asleep when the Cubs play their day games?

Okay, so what about the Dodgers? With their 61-29 record, there doesn’t seem like much that could stop them. We know what Roberts thinks. What about Justin Turner and Clayton Kershaw?

"“Well, we’ve already played them our [six] times,” Turner said, “so we don’t have to play them anymore — so now they’re no longer the team for us to beat.”"

That may have been the most accurate assessment of the Cubs to date. And he’s right. But the Dodgers open up the second half against the Marlins. So does he think the Marlins are the team to beat? You confuse me with your words, Turner. At least he won’t have to go far after the All-Star break.

"“I think any team that won the World Series the past year, they’re the World Series champions until the next team wins,” Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw said. “It doesn’t really matter who you beat to win the World Series. But the Cubs still won, so you’ve got to respect that for sure.”"

It’s not exactly rocket science. You win the World Series; you’re the WS Champs until the next team wins. But Kershaw knows a little bit about baseball, especially pitching. Actually, we could use his knowledge of it in the second half. Maybe a webinar for John Lackey?

Next: Why the team isn't likely to land a 'big-time' starter

The final result is that players on other teams still believe the Cubs are dangerous. And I don’t think every team went politically correct and didn’t want to talk bad about the Cubs. Jon Lester just got rocked in his last outing before the break. These players could feast on a team that is down, but they didn’t. So maybe Cubs fans should have a little more faith in the team?

Or you could just play dumb and answer with, “I don’t know about the 2017 Cubs.” It worked for Lamb.