The Chicago Cubs had a fairytale season in 2016, as they won their first World Series title in more than 100 years. That special year has been followed by a nightmare in 2017.
The Northsiders enter the second half of the season at 43-45, two games below .500 and 5.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers for first-place in the National League Central. The Cubs also sit 7.5 games behind the Colorado Rockies for the final Wild Card spot. So yeah, they’re in a really bad spot.
If Chicago is going to turn its season around, there are three main issues that need to be addressed.
1. Starting Pitching
This has been the biggest issue confronting the defending champions. As our own Kyle Koster pointed out earlier in the week, the Cubs’ starting pitchers have been terrible when you look at what they did last season. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey have all performed far worse in 2017 and that has been a big part of the team’s failures.
Here are the same comparisons Kyle’s put together all four guys, showing their performances in 2016 and 2017:
Lester: 19-5/2.44 ERA/1.02 WHIP
As you can see, all four guys have seen their ERAs and WHIPs increase substantially. The Cubs starters rank 17th in baseball in ERA (4.66), 13th in batting average against (.259) and 17th in WHIP (1.37). What was once an enormous strength has become an even bigger weakness for Chicago.
The team’s starters are also allowing 0.91 runs in the first inning of games this season, which is by far the worst in baseball. Last year that number was just 0.41. It’s not hard to see why the Cubs have struggled.
The Cubs don’t have any noteworthy starting pitching prospects on the horizon, so unless they make a few huge trades, that foursome must turn things around. Unless the starters figure out a way to turn things around, Chicago has virtually no chance to repeat as World Series champs.
2. Kyle Schwarber
What the heck happened here? Kyle Schwarber was hailed as the second-coming of “The Babe” after a great rookie season in 2015, when he blasted 16 home runs and drove in 43 runs in just 69 games. The sweet-swinging, powerful lefty then reached legend-status in Chicago when he returned for the 2016 World Series after missing virtually the entire season with a torn ACL. In that series he hit .412 with seven hits in 17 at bats, while adding three walks and two RBI. Most believed he was primed to dominate in 2017.
How prized was Schwarber’s bat? The Cubs ruled him untouchable at the trade deadline last year despite his devastating knee injury. The 24-year-old has since fallen off a cliff this season.
As the second half opens, Schwarber is hitting just .178, with 13 home runs, 29 RBI and an OPS of .694 in 68 games. He also has 78 strikeouts and 38 walks. No one with the Cubs can figure out what’s wrong with him and he was even optioned to Triple-A a few weeks ago. He was recalled just before the break.
The Cubs should have plenty of offense without Schwarber (see below), but he used to be a feared member of the squad who no one wanted to pitch to. The Indiana product added yet another efficient, powerful bat to a lineup full of them. Now? He’s barely worth accounting for.
Schwarber needs to turn things around and fast.
3. Silent Bats
As a team in 2016 the Cubs ranked third in OPS (.772), third in runs (808), 14th in batting average (.256), and finished second in on-base percentage (.343). So far in 2017, they rank 18th in OPS (.744), 20th in runs (399), 28th in batting average (.239) and 18th in on-base percentage (.326). Guys are having off years up and down the lineup and it is dragging everything down.
Schwarber (.178), Anthony Rizzo (.259), Kris Bryant (.269), Willson Contreras (.261), Ben Zobrist (.214) and Javier Baez (.256) have all seen their batting averages drop significantly, while Addison Russell (.226) is also in the tank.
Something is off. There is no way a lineup with that much talent should suffer this kind of drop in one season. The Cubs need their bats to wake up if they want any chance at a postseason run.