Since the last time I looked at the odds (extreme Han Solo voice), the Cubs have slipped a bit in the standings but remain in third place, now six games back of the Brewers and seven behind the Reds. While it’s possible the Reds or the Brewers can win the division, I don’t think Cincinnati is as good as their record suggests (albeit with their very exciting play thanks to EDLC) and the recent series with the Brewers, in which the Cubs might have swept were it not for some brain farts and bad luck (it could’ve gone either way), suggested that the Brewers weren’t that good either. What remains is for the Cubs to take advantage of the fact that every team is flawed, while also making sure they minimize their own flaws. The odds have updated some thanks to the Reds almost running away with it, but the Cubs aren’t that far back when considering this part of the calendar, so they still have a shot at winning the division and a laughably small chance of clinching a first round bye. Having just won their first ever series against the Yankees in any stadium in the New York Metropolitan Area, the Cubs might have at least stemmed the need to sell, although I guess we can look at that later or talk about it on the podcast.
The All-Star Game
There was a flurry of moves as Sunday starters bowed out and replacement pitchers and other injury replacements were announced, but for the Cubs, only Justin Steele will actually play in the game since Marcus Stroman elected not to pitch and Dansby Swanson is on the injured list with a heel issue which we hope will resolve itself by the time he’s eligible to be activated. I did think it was a bit funky to have three representatives from a team that isn’t even at .500, but I guess that speaks to the talent of the club and how the record doesn’t reflect that talent because of “baseball” or whatever. Steele and Stroman are among the pitching leaders in the NL and Swanson may still be the WAR leader amongst NL shortstops (what, you want me to look it up?) so this plus the prospects knocking on the door make me think they should buy and not do any sort of major sell-off, although I imagine the days for certain players like a Patrick Wisdom might be numbered, and guys who could hit free agency soon like Cody Bellinger and even Kyle Hendricks could be good moves to free up roster spots for said prospects to get some reps before they hopefully get serious about winning this coming offseason. Anyway, the Home Run Derby is on Monday and then they play the only All-Star Game in which the defense actually tries.
So Rob Manfred got an earful from the very perceptive fans in the crowd on Day 1, where the LSU duo everyone was salivating over got picked first and second overall, while the Cubs made some fun picks with their two of the day, which covered the first 70 picks. The second day will cover rounds 3-10, and the third and final day completes the draft with rounds 11-20 ever since they gutted the draft among killing something like 40 minor league affiliates and readying to restrict minor league club roster sizes. Most of the news is compiled over at MLB dot com.
The first was at #13 because the new draft lottery hates the Cubs, where they picked Matt Shaw, listed as either a second baseman or a shortstop or just an infielder, from the University of Maryland. He was apparently the Cape Cod League MVP last summer and hit a bunch of homers so there’s a hit tool, and the scouts suggest his arm won’t allow him to stay on the left side so he’s likely going to be a second baseman if he sticks, which makes things interesting down the line especially if he graduates as rapidly as Nico Hoerner did.
The final pick, thanks to Willson Contreras moving to the other side of the rivalry, was at #68 with Jaxon Wiggins, a right-hander from Arkansas who had Tommy John Surgery. I think of this as their Cade Horton pick for this year, and we can see what Horton is doing so far in the minors. Wiggins seemed to sit comfortably in the mid-90s with the ability to sniff triple digits but we’ll see if the Cubs got some value out of this one. Between Wiggins and Shaw I believe the Cubs will save some money for the later rounds to squeeze whatever value they can out of each slot before they screw some seniors (hey, phrasing)
The Cubs have a relatively smaller pool with $8,962,000 (plus 5%) to spend amongst their first 10 round picks, plus they can max out at $150K without dipping into the pool for anyone from rounds 11-20.
When they return home on Friday, the Cubs will take on a resurgent Red Sox club which might be fine were they not stuck in the AL East. After that one, it’s a long-ish quasi-home stand where they hopefully exact revenge on the Nationals and Cardinals before traveling to the South Side and finishing their season series against the Cardinals before July even ends. Then back home to play the current division leader Reds, which coincides with the trade deadline. Inclusive of the trade deadline on August 1, that’s 18 games remaining to build on this 42-47 record. This year’s Cubs has been a bit of a mystery because they can’t decide if they’re good or not, which probably means they’re a “bad” team by default, but also maybe they just need to do what Berselius says and just play better. So this is probably going to be about three weeks of agony or jubilation depending on what happens. It could go either way!