By Cat Garcia
After a tough five-game losing streak last week against two of baseball’s losingest teams, the Cubs needed nothing more than to head into the All-Star Break with a win. And that they did, salvaging the final game of an important Pittsburgh Pirates series to win it 6-5 on Sunday afternoon at PNC Park.
The Cubs have had an incredible first half and despite the rough patch finished the first half with a 53-35 record, holding a 7.5 game lead in the National League Central division over the St. Louis Cardinals.
Looking back on the first half, it’s quite impressive that the Cubs are still sitting in such a good position entering the break. As of right now, outfielders Jorge Soler, Dexter Fowler, Chris Coghlan and of course Kyle Schwarber are all on the disabled list. That’s more than an entire starting outfield worth of talent that was down for the count heading into the break, as well as catcher David Ross who headed to the 7-day concussion list last week.
Ross being unavailable had carved out more playing time behind home plate for newcomer Willson Contreras, whose bat has been a strong life force in an otherwise weary looking lineup. However, some have questioned how Contreras handling of the Cubs veteran pitching staff has affected them, seeing as nearly every member of the Cubs rotation with the exception of Kyle Hendricks has been uncharacteristically struggling to find his rhythm in July.
The important thing to remember though is that it is only the All-Star Break, it’s a time during the season when injuries mount high and everyone is just a little banged up. Once the MLB is set to return to action on Friday, things should begin to look up again on the North side. The Cubs will be well rested, and soon will welcome the return of Fowler to the lineup as well as Ross and others, and this team can begin mapping out their targeted areas of need for a quickly approaching trade deadline.
The tired bullpen has been an area of concern for this Cubs team over the last few weeks. The Cubs now holds a 3.94 ERA, good for 15th in baseball and 7th in the National League entering the break. After seeing many new faces get their shot in the ‘pen including Gerardo Concepcion, Spencer Patton, Joel Peralta, and C.J. Edwards, it’s become quite obvious this bullpen is looking for answers.
The most pertinent need for this team as of now seems to be the addition for another left-handed reliever, with Travis Wood being the only lefty in the Cubs bullpen. The Cubs have shown interest in Yankees reliever Andrew Miller, though word came out last week that the Yankees had informed Miller that he would not be traded at the deadline. That points the Cubs’ arrow West to Oakland left-hander Sean Doolittle, who is currently on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, though I wouldn’t think it’s something to be overly concerned about. The Cubs and Oakland have matched up on deals before and Doolittle would add sufficient depth to the Cubs reliever arsenal.
Last year the Cubs underwhelmed at the deadline, acquiring starting pitcher Dan Haren during the final minutes before the deadline. Haren wasn’t the flashiest acquisition, but he certainly helped bolster the consistency of an otherwise shotty 2015 rotation. The Cubs are still a very talent rich team, even if it seems as though a plethora of that talent is on the disabled list — that won’t last forever. I wouldn’t expect the Cubs to make a huge splash at the deadline, it certainly isn’t something they truly need or would want to give up valuable assets for. Look for them to made a trade for a quality, consistent, left-handed reliever that won’t cost much in return.
The Cubs will return home to Wrigley Field on Friday to begin a three-game interleague series with the Texas Rangers before hosting the Mets for three starting on Monday.
• On the South Side of town, the All-Star Break has now become a crossroad. The White Sox finished the break above .500, with a record of 45-43 and are currently seven games back in the American League Central, good for third place.
The White Sox rotation has faced its share of trials in the first half, seeing everything from James Shields taking Mat Latos place in the rotation only to balloon his ERA to 6.28 to Chris Sale giving up three home runs to an Atlanta team who have only hit 55 home runs in the first half and have an ISO that rests at an anemic .112.
However, the biggest concern for the White Sox when approaching the deadline as an above .500 team will be that if they are still attempting to push for the playoffs this year, they’ll need to add another bat to their lineup. Though Justin Morneau will be making his debut in a White Sox uniform shortly before the trade deadline, which is also the time that Austin Jackson should be ready to be activated from the disabled list, in order to truly contend in this division the White Sox will need to extend themselves even further.
Though Jackson’s return will to push Avisail Garcia back to a bench role and help return Adam Eaton to right field where he was a defensive spark plug early in the season, having Garcia as depth only serves to leave the White Sox vulnerable to the situation that they’re currently in. Injuries happen, and Garcia cannot serve as a long term depth option defensively or offensively for a team hoping to contend.
Trading for a bat such as Jay Bruce is a strong option for the White Sox. Bruce is currently hitting .267/.315/.538 going into the break and would be an exceptional power presence in the White Sox lineup to complement Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu, who is currently posting a slugging average of .430 and hasn’t seen his power come full circle yet this season.
Another area of need would be the bullpen. While White Sox relievers are posting a 3.45 ERA, good for eighth in baseball, they are walking batters at an 11.1 percent clip — good for second among all bullpens. Unlike a time in April when this bullpen was dominant, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of faith among these relievers throughout the White Sox fan base anymore.
The issues for the White Sox now becomes the lack of depth that they have in their system. After promoting Tim Anderson, there isn’t quite a lot left to leverage for immediate talent without having to surrender names such as Anderson himself or starting pitcher Carson Fulmer.
The White Sox will need to decide now if they’re going to attempt to continue to chase their playoff aspirations in a division that is seeing the Cleveland Indians on an incredible hot streak and is posting one of the best records in baseball going into the break, or if they will consider executing a rebuild at the end of the season.
Finishing the first half with a decent rotation, Morneau on the way, and Jackson set for his return while clinging tightly to a .511 winning percentage makes that decision all the more difficult. I say look for the White Sox to make a small deal at the deadline, or stand completely pat and hope for the best.
After the break the White Sox will return to action on the West Coast, starting on Friday in Anaheim at the Los Angeles Angels for a three game set before heading to Seattle to take on the Mariners at Safeco for three games.