Should the Chicago Cubs be worried about the Brewers and Cardinals?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Jason Heyward
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Jason Heyward /

We’re less than three weeks away from wrapping up another regular season, and it’s still a fairly tight race in the National League Central. So, is it time to be worried?

The Major League Baseball season can be a long and tiring grind. Six months and 162 games of baseball can wear on even the most conditioned players. And for the Chicago Cubs, they have the added pressure of defending their title.

Things would be a lot less interesting right now had the Cubs not been swept by the Milwaukee Brewers last week. As it currently stands, both the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals remain within striking distance. That’s certainly not the position fans envisioned the team being in at this point in the year. Especially after such a dominant 2016 season.

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Is it time to push the panic button?

The truth is this really isn’t a yes or no question. The Chicago Cubs were champions of baseball just a year ago. Of course they can’t go into panic-mode in the midst of a tight playoff race. At the same time, though, this team has some things to clean up if they’re going to make a repeat run this time around.

The pitching simply has to be more consistent. There was an inordinate amount of reliability in last year’s pitching staff. This year? Not so much. Now, last year’s rotation was elite. No one should have realistically expected the Cubs to replicate that this season. But this rotation has been all over the place this year. You truly never know what you’re going to get from anyone on a given day.

The hitting hasn’t been as sharp, either. The Cubs had a whopping +252 run differential in 2016. To put that in perspective, the Boston Red Sox finished second in the league behind the Cubs with a +184 run differential. Entering Sunday’s finale, the Cubs’ run differential sits at +95. That’s the lowest among all other division leaders.

Despair not!

Sluggers Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant spent a good chunk of the season slumping, but they’ve both turned things around. Bryant, in particular, has been on a tear lately. He entered the weekend seventh in the league and second among all third basemen in WAR (5.9). So the Cubs’ mediocre offensive stats in 2017 isn’t necessarily indicative of the type of ball they’re playing right now.

The real test is starts now. In the remaining three weeks, the Cubs will play the Cardinals six times and the Brewers four times. Mixed into the final days is also a two-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays and a three-game series with the Cincinnati Reds.

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The Cubs don’t have to be perfect across this stretch, but they certainly can’t be swept by the Brewers again. Not unless they’re planning on winning every other game left on their schedule. Just survive. And they should. The Cubs have started building some momentum, having just completed a three-game sweep of the New York Mets on Thursday. The Mets may be one of the saddest franchises in all of sports right now, but a sweep is still a sweep.

The team has also welcomed back Willson Contreras, who was arguably making the biggest contributions at the plate before landing on the DL.  This team isn’t hitting the panic button yet – especially after a solid start to the weekend showdown with St. Louis.