--I continue to somewhat enjoy this team. I have no clue why since they’re fairly frustrating, they play sloppy far too often, and are inconsistent. But I’m enjoying it for the most part.
I know it’s said in passing, but it’s pretty hard to take any talk of the Sox being in the Wild Card race seriously. They’re six games under .500 and have most of the league to pass. I, for one, don’t believe they are. And, even as they’ve “faded” in August, I still have no problem with the team not doing anything at the trade deadline, at the end of July, the Sox needed more time to fully evaluate if moving prospects for another bat was worth it this year. Standing pat was (probably) the right move, as I assume a good deal for Samardzija wasn’t there.
--I really like what I’ve seen from Trayce Thompson so far. I'm not sure if he's an above average outfielder, his glove will play a big role in that, but he's hitting lefties. Can't ask more from him than that.
Thoughts on Other Teams...
--I went to the Sox/Angels game on August 12th, and between that, the Sox playing them a bunch the last week and the Angels/Royals game being the Sunday Night game—I got a good look at the Halos and… they’re not that good. Yes any team with BASEBALLGODMIKETROUT is going to be good, but after Trout it’s Pujols and yikes. Kole Calhoun has put together a nice year for them and C.J. Cron can hit. But that’s it. It’s a pretty bad line up outside of Trout, Pujols, and Calhoun. The bottom of the line up sound (and hit) like a bunch of guys that were in “A Bronx Tail” (mainly because Johnny Giavotella is involved).
Their starters haven’t been good but they haven’t killed them either. I did like Andrew Heaney, but looking at his numbers, he doesn’t seem to have a knock out pitch. But all their starters have had luck on their side: all are running low BABIPs.
All in all, this is a poorly constructed team. Their bad farm system is rearing its head right now, as there just isn’t any young guys here after Trout. I’m not saying anything all that new here, but they’ve got a ton of money tied up in a lot of straight up bad vets right now, even the Pujols contract is bad despite Albert hitting well this year. They should probably tear everything down this winter, be bad in 2016, then reload for 2017 as a few contracts come off the books. Problem is I don't see any teams wanting anyone on the Angels after Trout.
The fact that they’re in the race for the Wild Card/AL West is a testament to how freaking good Mike Trout is.
--I watched more Cubs this year than I have in the last five years combined. This isn’t really because they’re fun to watch, it’s more that they’re not absolutely horrible to watch like they have been since 2010.
They remind me of the 2000 White Sox. A team that treads water for 140 games, but goes on a 20 game run where they get hotter than shit, nothing goes wrong, and use that to coast into the playoffs. Like the 2000 Sox, they’re young and a year ahead of schedule.
Like the 2000 Sox, they’re getting some great performances from guys you’d never think they would. Hammel and Hendricks are having Parque/Eldred like seasons. It’s unlikely they’ll ever do this again. There is more talent on the pitching side of things than the '00 Sox: Arrieta* is great and Lester has been fine despite what some idiot Cub fans say. And they’re getting a Herbert Perry type year out of Chris Coghlan right now. Teams need this stuff to happen in order to make the playoffs.
*Arrieta HR rate has increased from last year but still is below league average, and his BABIP has fallen slightly this year. He’s a good pitcher don’t get me wrong, but it’s unclear if he’s a great pitcher or just someone riding a nice 300 inning streak with some luck. But I’m nit-picking here…
The key for the Cubs has been Schwarber, who put the lineup over the top. Rizzo is great, Bryant has been fine, but that’s pretty much it. Schwarber added that third big bat in the middle of the line up, sending some of the brutal guys they’ve been trotting out there to the bench.
That said, this team isn’t nearly as good as their record indicates. It’s as much stars and scrubs as the Sox roster is when you get down to it. There are two key differences: (i) the Cubs are getting career years out of a few arms and Coghlan, and (ii) the bums the Cubs trot out every day can field, unlike most on the Sox.
And the Cubs do field well. Bryant will stick for a while at third which is huge for them. He’s not going to win a gold glove there, but he’s not going to kill them either. The moment his bat ends up in left/right, is the moment he becomes a lot less valuable (unless he fixes his contact issues). Addison Russell, who also has contact issues*, is a goddamn wizard with the glove out their. Montero, Denorfia, Ross, Fowler... all good gloves.
*This is a theme for the Cubs. Nearly every prospect/young player on the team has major contact issues. We’ve already seen Baez all but wash out. Bryant’s BABIP is the only reason he isn’t hitting .220 or something, same is also true of Soler, and even Schwarber has struck out a lot more in the majors than I thought he would. These guys are all young, some will figure it out a bit and cut down on the Ks. But some won’t… KKKKris Bryant is a nickname waiting to happen, if it hasn’t already.
All said, I’m bearish on the Cubs. I think they’ll make the playoffs because a four game lead this late in the season is a nice cushion. But longer term? Where is the pitching? Arrieta's never pitched this many innings, is he a 200 inning a year guy? (I’m guessing yes, but still has to be raised). What happens if Bryant strikes out 30% of the time with a .290 BABIP? After nearly 500 plate appearances, is this who Soler is (yikes if so)? Should we worry about Schwarber’s body as it ages (yes, this is more of a question for 2021)? Who is playing second base next year? Castro is owed $38m over the next 4 year years, who in their right mind is going to take that on?
There are some nice things going on over up on the north side of Chicago, but I remain skeptical. They don’t have as much payroll flexibility as I think most people assume, and nest year they'll need two more starters, an everyday outfielder, and arms for the bullpen. The Cubs are in a good position, but they’re not in a great position. I don’t think we’re looking at a late 00s/early 10s Phillies run or something here, but rather something more like what we've seen from the Nats.