A three-game sweep (finally) of the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates have the Chicago Cubs within striking distance in the woeful National League Central, just 3.5 games out despite entering action Friday six games under .500.
What role the Cubs play at the trade deadline - buyers or sellers - remains to be seen. But if David Ross' club can string together a strong finish to June, they could do a lot to convince the front office that selling for a third consecutive summer isn't the right move. According to a league-wide breakdown from The Athletic's Jim Bowden, Chicago has two glaring needs (well, three, but two that can be addressed in a somewhat straightforward manner):
"The Cubs need another star for the middle of their lineup, but right now their more realistic priorities are to try to acquire a left-handed bat and an upgrade for their struggling bullpen. "- Jim Bowden, The Athletic
Tell me something we don't know, Jim. These needs mirror two of the biggest weaknesses on the roster heading into the year. Cody Bellinger sort of checked the box for left-handed impact bat, but his missing a month with a knee injury while rookie Matt Mervis looked lost at the plate left a gaping hole in the lineup.
Cubs have had these very same needs for some time now
Switch-hitter Ian Happ has showed more power of late and Mike Tauchmann has been a pleasant surprise, as well. With Bellinger back in the fold, there's definitely more balance here now, but another impactful left-handed bat certainly wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
The Cubs bullpen has been a disaster for months at this point. No lead feels safe and, as Bowden also points out, the 'circle of trust' is more like a guy on a desert island by himself in Adbert Alzolay. Mark Leiter has also been solid, but that's really it. Michael Fulmer has been as inconsistent as they come, Brad Boxberger is still on the IL - and the team's young arms have come up well short of expectations with Jeremiah Estrada, Keegan Thompson and Javier Assad all struggling.
A weekend series at Wrigley against the high-flying Baltimore Orioles will be a true test for this team - and it has the potential to erase the gains the team made this week against the Bucs. But if they can escape this weekend unscathed and handle business in another showdown against Pittsburgh next week, they just might be ready to slide into the 'buyers' category this summer.