The following four games in St. Louis may decide the future of the Chicago Cubs franchise, as the team currently sits 3rd in the NL Central with a 52-51 record through 101 games of the 2023 MLB season. Following their firesale at the 2019 deadline, the Cubs have been slowly building a solid farm system and have added some quality major-league talent in free agency including Marcus Stroman, Cody Bellinger, and Dansby Swanson. While Swanson is signed to a long-term deal, Stroman and Bellinger are candidates to be traded at the August 1st trade deadline.
The Cubs could likely get a haul for Stroman, especially given the lack of quality starting pitching available on the trade market. But as the Cubs continue to climb back into the playoff picture, the likelihood of a Stroman trade is diminishing.
The Cubs have had a roller coaster of a season so far, but have been trending upwards over the past six weeks. Since getting swept by the Angels in early June, the Cubs have strung together a 24-15 stretch and since losing seven of eight games to drop to 38-45, they’ve won 12 of 18. After a sweep of the crosstown Chicago White Sox, the Cubs currently hold an 18.8% chance to make the playoffs according to FanGraphs and a 37.5% chance according to Baseball Reference.
In their 24-15 stretch since June 9th, the Cubs bullpen and lineup have come to life despite faltering starting pitching. Adbert Alzolay has solidified himself as the go-to 9th inning option, racking up 11 saves in 12 opportunities this season. The walk problems that once plagued the former starter have been eliminated, as his walk rate sits at just 4.0% this season. Michael Fulmer (1.62 ERA since 6/9), Julian Merryweather (3.93), and Mark Leiter Jr. (2.84) have all been great late inning options while Javier Assad (2.01) has been great in his long relief role and Daniel Palencia (2.84) has shown off his elite stuff in his six appearances since being called up.
Since returning from injury in early June, Cody Bellinger has been one of league’s best players. His resurgence has transformed the Cubs offense, adding much-needed power to a contact-heavy lineup. Mike Tauchman’s emergence as the everyday leadoff hitter has helped deepen the lineup, with Christopher Morel, the team’s 2nd best hitter according to wRC+, regularly being penciled into the 7 slot in the lineup.
A Weak NL Central
The Cubs are currently 3rd place in the NL Central, but they are just 6 games back of the Milwaukee Brewers and 4.5 back of the Cincinnati Reds. They’re also the only team in the division with a positive run differential (+48) and rank 20th in remaining strength of schedule. Additionally, the Cubs have six more games on the schedule against the division-leading Brewers and eight more against the Reds.
Filling the Holes
The Cubs aren’t quite ready to sell off big farm system pieces for high-end major league talent, but they can still buy at this trade deadline. Cody Bellinger’s value is maximized at center field and the combo of Matt Mervis and Jared Young hasn’t worked out for the Cubs at first base. A trade with the Rockies for C.J. Cron and/or Ryan McMahon could work out, as the Rockies continue their rebuild. Cron (.224 ISO) and McMahon (.204) both exhibit plus power, another necessary addition to their lineup. For a more risky long-term option, Yoan Moncada is struggling once again this year but a change of scenery could help and he’s under contract through the end of next season.
The top of the Cubs rotation is solidified with Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman, and Kyle Hendricks, but Drew Smyly has cooled off after a hot start to the season. With Jameson Taillon starting to find his groove (4 ER in his last 19.1 innings), the Cubs may feel comfortable about their four-man postseason rotation. But getting a fifth starter to make it through the end of the regular season wouldn’t hurt. Hayden Wesneski has showed out in AAA and could make an impact on the big-league staff, but dealing for Rich Hill or Michael Lorenzen could also be an option.
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