Chicago Cubs: A hot start is needed to run away from the Central

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

After an up-and-down first half, it is pertinent for the Chicago Cubs to come out of the All-Star break hot, or the team may face unwanted circumstances.

The Chicago Cubs are fortunate to play in the National League Central Division this season.

Ironically, this narrative is exactly the opposite of the one held across baseball entering the 2019 MLB season. The NL Central was expected to be a bloodbath, a division full of competitive teams beating up on one another day in and day out.

Average Joes?

While the latter part of that statement still is the case, the division has been anything but a bloodbath. Instead, the NL Central has seen each team enter the All-Star break with .500 or losing records since June 1.

Overall record and division records since June 1:

-Cardinals: 16-16, (3-4)
-Brewers 15-18, (11-8)
-Pittsburgh Pirates 16-17, (6-9)
-Cincinnati Reds 14-16, (8-5)
-Cubs 16-19, (5-7)

While the Brewers and Reds have done well recently in divisional play, they’ve gone 4-10 and 6-11, respectively, in their non-NL Central games since June.

On the other hand, the Cardinals have played seven divisional games since June and remain just two games back of the Cubs for first place in the division. Meanwhile, the Pirates are 44-45, 2 1/2 games back of the Cubs.

Advantageous circumstances

So, what’s my point, and what does all of this mean? Well, despite playing sub-.500 baseball for more than a month now, the Cubs managed to enter the break in first place. That doesn’t mean they’ll hold onto that title, though.

In any other division, the Cubs would be anywhere from second to fourth place in the standings. Instead, they’ve benefited from a division that’s been less tough that many foresaw, battling their own mediocrity simultaneously.

This isn’t to say that the Cubs are a bad team that should be left for dead. However, it’s impossible to deny that they’ve been treading water for an extended time now. The circumstances of their current position are troublesome, mostly.

If the Cubs entered the break 50-40 and in first place, the outlook on the team would be much different. In this scenario, even if they were just a half-game ahead of the Brewers, it would mean the Cubs went 19-16 since June 1, rather than the opposite.

It’s go time

A 19-16 stretch across 35 games isn’t great, but it’d be an easier pill to swallow for the Cubs and their fans than a 16-19 record. Being 50-40 would mean the Cubs would have more wiggle room in the NL Central. Instead, 4 1/2 games separate them and the last-place Reds

When they return from the break, the Cubs will play three games against the Pirates (July 12-14) and three against the Reds (July 15-17). Those six games are critical.

If the Cubs go 3-3 or better over that span, they’ll likely stay atop the divisional standings with the Brewers. But if they go 2-4, 1-5 or 0-6 (gulp)? Suddenly, a team with World Series aspirations could be deciding whether or not to sell at the trade deadline.

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The time for the Chicago Cubs to go on an extended run of success is long overdue. It hasn’t happened, though, leaving the team in a precarious situation. If they don’t turn things on starting Friday, Theo Epstein and Co. will likely have several tough decisions to make.