The Rundown: Cubs Limp into Break Clinging to First Place, Robel Garcia Could Be Key to Second-Half, Yelich Exits Home Run Derby

Miraculously, thanks to playing in a division that nobody really seems to want to win, the Cubs cruise into the All-Star Break sitting in first place in the NL Central. Their half-game lead over the Brewers is the tiniest margin, and a bad series against the Pirates to start the second half could knock them all the way down to fourth place. Just 4.5 games separate first from last place in baseball’s tightest race.

The good news is that the Cubs are winning at a .644 clip at the Friendly Confines this season and will resume meaningful baseball on Friday with nine games in Chicago against the Pirates, Reds, and Padres. If you’re a glass-half-full type of person, you believe the Cubs can fatten that first-to-last gap immediately. A disastrous homestand could make the Cubs sellers ahead of this month’s trade deadline.

The Cubs may also get some second-half reinforcements without making a single trade. The rumor is that Ben Zobrist is now expected back, and possibly soon, which hopefully means the front office will cut bait with Daniel Descalso. Had he performed anywhere close to major league level, Addison Russell might be on the hot seat instead. But Descalso has been putrid and I might be too kind in saying so. His 51 wRC+ through 180 plate appearances is easily the worst on the team and even trails three pitchers.

A discussion I had amongst Milwaukee friends over the long holiday weekend is that 85 wins may take the division this season. Though the Cubs and Brewers currently sit at the top, both look more mediocre than good while the Reds and Pirates look like the teams to beat. Cincinnati’s starting pitching has been absolutely sick this year and the Pirates keep finding ways to churn out one-run wins.

You cannot window-dress the fact that the Cubs just finished a 50-game stretch with only 22 wins. As July comes to an end, they will be in the middle of nine games against the Brewers and Cardinals. That means that between now and the trade deadline, Chicago will play one series against each of their Central opponents. The team and the division may look a lot different come August 1.

Cubs News & Notes

How About That!

Hot first-half takes: Mike Trout is absurd, the Mets are a mess, and the Twins are baseball’s best story so far.

Pete Alonso became the third player of the season to reach 30 home runs before the break. The rookie slugger went yard to break up a no-hit bit by Aaron Nola in the 6th inning of yesterday’s game. Just one other time have three hitters in the same league reached 30 home runs before the break in the same season, and that was back in 1998 when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Greg Vaughn reached the milestone.

Fernando Tatís Jr. is good at baseball. How badly do White Sox fans hate that 2016 trade for James Shields now? Tatís is now batting .327/.393/.620, which is MVP-grade production.

It looks like Emilio Pagán is the new closer in Tampa Bay. How I would have loved for the Cubs to acquire this guy from the Rays.

Phillies starter Jake Arrieta reportedly has a bone spur in his elbow, but he’s hoping to delay surgery until the offseason.

Pirates backstop and frequent Cubs-killer Francisco Cervelli will reportedly give up catching because of his history of concussions.

Brewers OF Christian Yelich has bowed out of the Home Run Derby due to an achy back.. A’s 3B Matt Chapman will take his place.

Sunday’s Three Stars

  1. Fernando Tatís Jr. – The all-world rookie SS was 2-for-4 with two home runs, four RBI, and one helluva defensive play. It’s unfathomable that Tatis is not an All-Star.
  2. Alex Young – The rookie Diamondbacks pitcher was pulled after six innings and 71 pitches while tossing a no-hitter against the Rockies. Young was on a limited pitch count.
  3. Greg Allen – The Indians OF was 4-for-6 and a double shy of the cycle in leading Cleveland to an 11-1 rout of the Reds.

You’re Killing Me Smalls

The Sandlot should be to the 4th of July what A Christmas Story is to Christmas Day. There should be no argument.

On Deck

Last year’s epic battle between Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper in the Home Run Derby finals is worth another look.

Extra Innings

García really reminds me of Alfonso Soriano.  They have similarly strong, lanky bodies with powerful swings to match. Garcia is a switch-hitter and his swing is similar to Soriano’s from both sides of the plate.

Check out Evan Altman’s Into the Basket podcast with 670 The Score’s Julie DiCaro and WBBM’s Brad Robinson for a lot more on García.

They Said It

  • “I think we all feel fortunate to be within half a game of first place, giving the way that we’ve played. If the (division) had shaken out a little bit differently, we’d be in a lot different mindset — probably looking more longer term. Right now, we’re looking very short term. We’re looking at how to claw back to first place and then build a lead.” – Theo Epstein
  • “We’re in a decent spot right now and haven’t come close to playing our best baseball. You’re going to see a better brand of all this in the second half.”Joe Maddon
  • “I don’t think what we’ve done in the first half is going to be good enough. We’re just as greedy as any fan out there. We want to be 10 games ahead. There’s a lot more breathing room, but it just hasn’t gone that way for us this year. First place is great, but we’ve missed a lot of opportunities to separate ourselves. That’s the frustrating part. We just have to play better. I know we can do it.”Kris Bryant

Monday Walk Up Song

Africa by Toto. Though it is not 1983, and though this wasn’t even a good song when it was released, it was wildly popular and somehow I heard it three times yesterday. Now I can’t get it out of my head. I’d like to pay it forward, whether you like it or not.

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