Chicago Cubs Redefining the Term Slump

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After coming out with one of the best starts in MLB history, the Chicago Cubs have slowed down in the past week and a half. After losing a double header to the Padres, the Cubs lost their series against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team has lost 5 of its last 8 games against considerably weaker opponents and now will travel to San Francisco to the Giants and Saint Louis to play the division rival Cardinals. The level of competition is rising this week and the Cubs will have to adapt.

In their 5 loses, the Cubs have posted 4 runs or less. In their 3 wins, the Cubs scored a total of 19 runs, 17 of which came against the Pittsburg Pirates, a team the Chicago Cubs have dominated this season.

While individual players, such as Ben Zobrist, are hitting their stride, the Cubs offense is faltering. The Cubs have left a number of runners on base in scoring position. According to Carrie Muskat, the Cubs went 1-for-24 with men in scoring position against the Brewers. They left 24 runners on base in the series, 14 coming of Wednesday.

In the grand scheme of it all the Cubs still lead the NL Central by 6.5 games and still have baseball’s best record. Even the best teams have their slumps. Right now it doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Cubs.

Facing the Champs

On May 20th, the Cubs will begin their series against the defending World Series Champions, the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs also played the Giants last year and swept the would be champions.

This will be a good test for the Cubs. If they can rebound from their recent slump and beat the Giants in the series, they will be a good place going forward. The Giants are the real deal and still are a very good team.

Adding A Reliever

The Cubs recently signed Joe Nathan to a contract. Nathan is on the wrong side of 40 and is coming off Tommy John surgery. He could be a good pickup if he still has something left in the tank. He is currently on the disabled list rehabbing his throwing arm.

The Cubs have most of their relievers returning from last season. Guys like Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Travis Wood are still effective, but this move could further bolster their bull pen if Nathan pans out.

The Future Of Cubs Catching

This is David Ross’ last season in the major leagues. He has made it known for a while now that he won’t be coming back. How much of a priority will it be for the Cubs to replace Ross?

The Cubs still have Miguel Montero and Tim Federowicz who are currently listed as catchers. They also have Kyle Schwarber, who is naturally a catcher, but is versatile enough to play outfield. While it may seem like a rather obvious answer, there is more to it than what is listed on paper.

The Cubs will have a number of young studs to pay in the near future. Should salaries become an issue, the Cubs could consider trading Montero and his large contract. Montero is currently making $12 million this year according to mlb.com and that number will rise to $14 million next year.

Should it come down to it, and the Cubs do trade Montero, Schwarber could move back to catcher in order to keep Jorge Soler in the lineup who is currently filling in for Schwarber.

 

 

 

 

The One Area the Chicago Cubs Need to Improve

(Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

Somehow, someway the Chicago Cubs have the third-best record in the National League. But if the team wants to hold on to the final playoff spot they will need to make improvements, especially with a four-game series against arch rival St. Louis starting Monday night.

Many experts say the team needs to add another solid arm to the pitching rotation. Experts also claim another bat is needed.

Both are more than likely true, but there is one glaring problem with the team — the lead-off spot.

Dexter Fowler was signed to a one year deal worth $9.5M in the off-season to be the catalyst of the offense. He was also signed for his defense from his center field position. The latter has been nearly flawless, while the former poses as the glaring problem.

Over the last 10 games, the Cubs lead-off man has just five base knocks in 35 at-bats. Simple math points to an atrocious .142 average. The decline in offensive production has dropped his season average to .228 for the season with an on-base percentage at .305. Neither of which are the type of numbers a team wants from its lead-off man, never mind a young team.

It’s no wonder the Cubs, as a team, have scored just 2.2 runs over their last 12 games with a collective average of .207 over that same stretch.

On the plus side, Fowler does have eight long balls on the season and has driven in 23 runs. His 51 runs scored are fifth best in the league. But most of those numbers were inflated earlier in the season.

It’s no secret a team’s offense can be boosted by an effective leadoff hitter. With power guys such as Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant following in the order, lots of good things could come with the leadoff hitter being on base.

I am sure the Cubs could live with Fowler’s average being less than stellar if he continued to take walks and had a respectable on base percentage. Neither has happened over the last month or so.

Sure others such as Rizzo and “cleanup” hitter Miguel Montero have recently struggled as well. But with a lead-off man who gets on base can ease the pressure from the RBI guys’ shoulders. Runners on base adds pressure to pitchers to make the perfect pitch to the guys in the lineup who can do damage. Trying to make the perfect pitch to guys like Rizzo and Bryant can lead to mistake pitches, which ultimately lead to more hard hit balls.

This current Cubs offense has more than just one weakness, at the moment, but a more effective Fowler could help solve some of those issues.

And if Fowler cannot right the ship soon, Cubs manager Joe Maddon needs to make a change at the top. Or perhaps the “bat” experts are calling for should be one who can also fill the void at the top of the order.

 

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Chicago Cubs Should Target Miguel Montero

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

This is expected to be a very busy off-season for the Chicago Cubs . With their talented young prospects ready to make their mark at the big league level, and a ton of payroll flexibility to work with, the time to strike is now.

Acquiring impact starting pitching is probably the top priority for the Cubs this off-season. They have been strongly connected to Jon Lester, Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jason Hammel, Francisco Liriano and a host of other starting pitching options throughout this early out-of-year rumor season. It seems highly possible that they land one, if not two of the pitchers mentioned above.

Another player who the Cubs had been connected to countless times was catcher Russell Martin. Well, on Monday Martin signed a five-year, $83 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays , taking him off of the free agent market. With the other free agent options at the catcher position being less than desirable (a poorly aging A.J. Pierzynski is probably the next best option, it is that bad), the Cubs will have to look at the trade market if they wish to upgrade from their current situation.

Current Arizona Diamondbacks backstop Miguel Montero would appear to be a great fit, and Arizona is reportedly interested in moving him . While he may not bring the Cubs elite-level veteran leadership like Martin would have, at 31-years-old, Montero has been around the block, and would bring some nice experience to a very young Cubs’ clubhouse.

Montero is considered to be good, but not great, defensively behind the plate. However, one of the strongest skills in his possession is his elite ability to frame pitches, something that Theo Epstein and the rest of the Cubs’ front office places a premium on for a catcher, and that incumbent Welington Castillo has struggled mightily with since reaching the majors.

Montero is coming off of back-to-back down years at the plate, but his extremely low BABIP suggests that he has run into some bad luck, and natural progression seems possibly, if not likely. His career slash line of .264/.342/.421 does not jump off of the page at you, but he has been a productive hitter for the catcher position.

Being a left-handed hitter only adds to Montero’s value to the right-handed heavy Cubs’ line-up. Also, acquiring him would not have to completely force out Castillo. At only 27-years-old, Castillo still has plenty of upside, and would be a very strong back-up catcher option. In fact, Castillo is a much better hitter against left-handed pitching, with Montero being much better against right handers. A platoon is not only likely to be effective offensively, it would help keep both players fresh throughout the long and grueling MLB season.

The Diamondbacks still owe Montero $40 million over the next three seasons. His relatively high contract, coupled with his recent offensive struggles, makes me think that the Cubs could get Montero at a discounted price. This is a great buy-low opportunity for a player who fits the Cubs’ needs perfectly.

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