Chicago Cubs: Winning streak to start the second half has scripted feel

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jason Heyward
ATLANTA, GA - JULY 17: Jason Heyward /

As the dreadful first half for the Chicago Cubs came to a close, it was all about the break. A chance for players to unwind, reset themselves and get ready for a strong second half. In just six games, are the Cubs back?

It has been an ongoing dilemma around here. Every time the Chicago Cubs put together a win or two, we ask “Is this it? Are they back?” But that often has not been the case as what seemed like a good thing quickly fell back to the team that they’ve been for much of the first half. With the All-Star break out of the way, could it be possible that the Cubs have officially turned the corner? I know it was the Orioles and the Braves–not the Dodgers and the Nationals. But six-straight has to mean something, right?

After all the talk of how the Cubs had plenty of time, and they were going to put it together–it was starting to feel like that wasn’t going to happen. The team couldn’t score with runners in scoring position. Every starter has gone through a stretch where they had a terrible game or two and couldn’t be counted on. The one constant part of all this was their bullpen, which just about gave away an eight run lead in their first game back. But since then? It’s been the Cubs of 2017.

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Have last year’s Cubs returned?

The Cubs have allowed just 15 runs after the break, with eight of those coming in the first game back against the Orioles. The five games after that saw the Cubs allow just seven runs. They’ve outscored the Braves and Orioles 44-17 since having a chance to “reset” themselves. I’d say so far; it’s working.

Since the break, the Cubs are batting .316 as a team, with 16 doubles,16 home runs and an OBP of .377. Javier Baez is hitting .500 with two home runs and six RBI. Jason Heyward is batting .429 since the break. Willson Contreras is at .409 with two home runs and seven RBIs, and Addison Russell is also at .409 with two home runs and five knocked in.

And we haven’t even delved into the pitching which has started at the top. Newly acquired Jose Quintana pitched seven strong innings while striking out 12. John Lackey, Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta? All quality starts, with Lester going seven innings as well. And how about the resurgence of Hector Rondon? I said it after the first Orioles game after the break. Nevermind the pitching collapse. It was a what I would consider a fluke, and they’ve bounced back from that game.

The Cubs have a 2.67 ERA in the second half, and that includes that meltdown the bullpen had against the O’s, as well as a hiccup from Wade Davis against the Braves. But in 54 innings, the Cubs have allowed an average against of .199 and posted a WHIP of 1.09. Not too shabby, indeed.

Sell it all has become “All-in”

As the Cubs entered into the second half, the thought was for them to trade. I didn’t think they would go out and get a top-tier guy like Quintana, but I was wrong. I thought Theo Epstein could make me look silly. But for a 6-0 record out of the gate, I’ll sound like a fool. But from here, I don’t think the Cubs have many moves left of any notoriety.

With virtually 12 days left until the non-waiver trade deadline, the Cubs may hold pat, especially if these winning ways continue. Epstein & Co. wouldn’t want to break apart a team that’s winning games. This is why I don’t see much happening. The Cubs still have pieces there to make a move, but I don’t think it will come from the MLB roster. With Kyle Hendricks preparing to return from the disabled list, the rotation would be somewhat back to form with Lester, Arrieta, Quintana and Lackey as well as Hendricks.

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And while Mike Montgomery was impressive today on the mound and at the plate, having him back in the bullpen will allow Joe Maddon an extra lefty to work with. He may not get the chance to swing the bat again, but his value in the pen is underappreciated.

I don’t think you could have written a better start to the second half. Last year’s World Series winner struggles out of the gate. Most people have started to give up on them. And then, boom. They explode out of the gate (which Maddon’s teams have done in his time in Chicago) and make a run at the NL Central. I’d absolutely buy this book and read it.