Tuesday Trends: Panning for Gold

With the consequential portion of the Cubs’ 2021 season over and done with and most of your favorite players wearing different jerseys, we Cubs fans find ourselves in a position we haven’t been in for quite some time.

Not only has the focus shifted towards the building blocks of the future, most of those blocks aren’t on the major league roster. With respect to Frank Schwindel, the Cubs aren’t likely to care much how he does the rest of the year. With him and every other player on this roster, the question is what we can learn down the stretch about that player’s likelihood to be a part of the next great Cubs team.

With that in mind, the focus of this column will shift to implications for the years to come rather than what’s left of the year we still have.

Trending up

Adbert AlzolayIt has been an up-and-down season for the righty, who has struggled of late after a relatively strong start to the 2021 campaign. Fueled in large part by exceedingly poor splits against left-handed batters (to the tune of a 7.28 ERA), Alzolay put up ERAs of 6.89 and 5.14 in June and July, respectively.

Underlying numbers were okay overall, but his results against lefties made it impossible for his overall results to hold up. That’s why starts like his Saturday outing against the White Sox make such a big impact. Against one of the game’s better lineups, one stacked with lefties for the occasion, he put up 6.2 strong innings, striking out seven and surrendering only two earned runs.

The Cubs didn’t win the game, but that really doesn’t matter because they will be looking for their young right-hander to take these kinds of steps to prove that he has the ability to stick as a middle of the rotation starter on a contender

Holding steady

Rafael Ortega’s shot of having a role next year: The veteran outfielder continues to rake. Ortega’s thus far uninspiring career wouldn’t have made one think that he had a .390/.444/.634 stretch in him, but that’s exactly what he’s done over his last 30 games.

Would I suggest you bet a meaningful amount of money on Ortega continuing this success? I certainly would not. With that said, this roster has relatively few pieces Jed Hoyer can count on to be useful pieces for next year’s club.

With his ability to play competent defense around the outfield, just holding his own at the plate could give the Cubs a competent role-player for the 2022 season.

For a team that’s going to need a lot of new pieces next year, having even one locked in could make a big difference.

Trending down

Dreaming on Ian HappIt’s getting increasingly difficult to justify a guaranteed role for Happ going forward. At the risk of promoting my own brand, I’d like to highlight a tweet from Monday:

Can I get an “oof?”

By all accounts, Happ is an affable and hardworking guy, but it’s hard to imagine what he could do the rest of the season that could make Hoyer and friends genuinely confident that he can be an everday player moving forward.

Happ has shown an ability to go on hot streaks before, though. At the tail end of the 2019 season, he hit .264/.333/.564, good for a 129 wRC+, and he largely continued that good work into the COVID shortened 2020 season. But things have fallen completely off a cliff since.

It’s one thing to be hot and cold, but contending teams can’t really survive 100-game stretches like this from someone who is supposed to be one of their cornerstones – especially one who doesn’t play particularly good defense at any position. There might not be a player on the roster who has more at stake than Happ going forward.

For me, though he’s no longer playing to preserve his role as a guaranteed starter on next year’s team. With numbers like his, he’s playing to avoid a DFA.

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