Tuesday Trends: New Half, Same Old Cubs

We’re only four games in, but the post-All Star break Cubs look a heck of a lot like the pre-All Star break Cubs. That’s to say, of course, that they look pretty forgettable.

Sure, they won their first series in several years (don’t look that up) in Arizona coming back from the break, but they didn’t look all that impressive doing it and the Diamondbacks are famously quite bad.

A drubbing at the hand of the Cardinals Monday night dropped the Cubs into sole possession of fourth place in the NL Central, erasing any momentum that series win might have generated. None of that really matters though, right? At this point, all that matters are how things impact 2022, 2023, and beyond.

Trending up

El Mago’s hot streak: Anyway you slice it, Javy Báez is on a tear. Over his last 15 games, he has slashed .321/.394/623 with six home runs. There’s even six walks sprinkled in there, an unusual feat for the free swinging shortstop.

It gets exhausting to say this over and over, but it’s that time of a year — Báez certainly isn’t hurting his trade market. Recent speculation has linked him to the New York Mets in light of Francisco Lindor’s injury, but there’s also been word that the Cubs would prefer to try to extend Javy before dealing him.

We’ll know soon enough.

Rafael Ortega’s playing time and production: While many Cubs have struggled over the last several weeks, journeyman Ortega has thrived. The 30-year-old outfielder has slashed a surprising .364/.417/.500 over his last 15 games.

Ortega has played all over the outfield, including 13 competent games in centerfield. An impressive catch in center in Monday night’s contest in St. Louis showed off the veteran’s versatility.

On a roster that figures to look significantly different within the next couple of weeks, there should be plenty of opportunities for Ortega to continue to draw starts.

Holding steady

Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Chafin: While Ryan Tepera has fallen off of late due to injuries and diminished velocity, the other two-thirds of the Cubs’ bullpen triumvirate is going strong.

Would you believe that Kimbrel is on pace to have the best full-season ERA of his Hall of Fame career? Outside of an abbreviated rookie season in 2010, he’s never had an ERA under 1.00 over the course of a full season and his 0.53 mark currently sits almost a half a run under that. His 15.5 K/9 wouldn’t be the best total of his career, but it’s up there and exceeds his career averages.

Chafin is setting career highs as well, particularly with a 1.38 ERA that represents a career best by a very significant margin. It’s a good bet that teams won’t buy in on the lefty quite as heavily as they will Kimbrel and his much more extensive track record, but nothing about Chafin’s performance so far suggests that his success is a fluke.

A contending Cubs team would have been well served by such a dynamic duo at the backend of the bullpen. A non-contending Cubs team will be well-served by the haul they’re sure to bring back within the next several weeks.

Trending down

The point of Zach DaviesWhen the Cubs acquired Davies, they reasonably figured there were two solid outcomes at the end of the road: He’d either pitch like he always had and help the Cubs compete, or he’d pitch like he always had and entice a contender into trading for him to add some reliability to their rotation.

Well, Davies hasn’t necessarily held up his end of the bargain. His numbers are not awful, not over the full season and certainly not over his last 15 starts in which he has a 3.10 ERA. But there are some troubling factors under the hood. The two problems that stand out above all others are a lack of innings and a lack of command.

Davies has only made it out of the 5th inning once in his last four starts and has walked 11 batters over those games. For a guy who is supposed to profile as Kyle Hendricks Lite, that is just not going to cut it.

If you were a contender, is that the guy you’d want to add to your rotation down the stretch? The answer for many, I suspect, will be no.

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