Last season was unprecedented in pretty much every way. But by the time the curtain fell on the 60-game 2020 regular season, the Chicago Cubs found themselves in first place in the NL Central with a 34-26 record that was buoyed by a scorching 13-3 start.
Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over the San Diego Padres marked the Cubs’ 61st game of the 2021 campaign – and the win moved Chicago to 34-27 on the year. David Ross, in his second year at the helm, has his team sitting just a half-game out of first after a strong showing in the month of May.
More from Cubbies Crib
- Cubs should keep close eye on non-tender candidate Cody Bellinger
- Cubs starting pitching has been thriving on the North Side
- Make no mistake: the Cubs are very much about power hitters
- Cubs are giving pitcher Javier Assad a deserved shot
- Cubs: It’s time to start thinking about potential September call-ups
It’s pretty remarkable the team finds itself in almost the exact same spot they ended the 2020 season. They’ve done so without Yu Darvish at the top of the starting rotation – instead relying on a mix of arms and reclamation projects and one of the best bullpens in all of baseball.
The bigger story, perhaps, is the laundry list of injuries that have decimated the Cubs this season. Despite playing at well under 100 percent for weeks on end now, the team has managed to stay in the hunt for the top spot in the division. One can only hope that, when back at full strength, they can distance themselves from the rest of their NL Central rivals.
"“If you’re going to judge this team right now,” Ross told MLB.com, “our team, what would you say we’re at? Seventy percent of our everyday players? Is this the best version of us right now? I would argue no.”"
One of the most glaring differences from last year to this? The re-emergence of Kris Bryant who, in the final year of his contract, is a legitimate contender in the NL MVP race. Entering play Wednesday, the three-time All-Star is batting .307/.383/.575 with 16 doubles, 13 home runs and 38 RBI. He’s done all this while playing all over the field defensively, stepping in wherever Ross needs a body.
Cubs shortstop Javier Baez has also rebounded from the worst showing of his big league career, putting up a 109 OPS+, despite leading the league with 80 strikeouts. He hasn’t been elite by any stretch, but he’s contributing far more than he did in 2020 when the lack of fans and in-game video access derailed him at the plate.
What does all this mean for the Chicago Cubs heading into the summer?
Following Wednesday’s finale in San Diego, the Cubs enjoy a day off Thursday before welcoming the St. Louis Cardinals to Wrigley Field for a weekend series – the first 100 percent capacity series at the Friendly Confines since late 2019.
Between fans in the stands and the roster inching closer and closer to full health, this team is more than capable of getting hot and making a run. The core has put the front office and ownership in a position where selling is now near-impossible, and would put the organization in a tough spot with fans.
Sixty games in, this Chicago Cubs team is looking in a mirror standings-wise. They’ll need to add at the deadline if they want to avoid a similar fate come October – but the good news is they’ve overcome a lot to get to this point.