Cubs Envision A 2nd-Half Surge, Like In Past Years

"Our best baseball is absolutely ahead of us," Joe Maddon says.

Bruce Levine
July 09, 2019 - 8:11 am

(670 The Score) The best reflection of the Cubs' standing after the first half of the season is that they still don't have a sense of their identity or destiny. 

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The Cubs have hovered in first place or a couple games behind for the better part of two months, but their inconsistency has left the front office and fan base non-plussed. At the break, the Cubs sit it first place in the National League Central at 47-43, a half-game up on the Brewers. While winning the division is the first of many goals for the Cubs, anything short of a championship is considered a failure these days.

"It's a credit to us players and the organization that we have put ourselves in (this position)," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said of the high expectations. "At the end of the day, it's about winning the division. We're in a good spot going into the second half and if you look around our division, you see the Brewers and Cardinals probably not happy with where they are at and the Pirates and Reds much stronger."

In a lame-duck season, manager Joe Maddon has come under scrutiny as the Cubs' uneven play has continued. Nonetheless, he remains as confident as ever in his group.

"The thing I like most is the togetherness," Maddon said. "This is a tightly knit group. That permits us to get through some difficult moments intact. We have been resilient to this point. We really have not played as well as we are capable of, but the key is that we have hung together pretty well."

The Cubs have been the best second-half team in baseball since Maddon took over in 2015. They're 189-103 after the All-Star break since then, good for a .647 winning percentage that leads MLB.

Their hope is for that usual surge to occur again.

"Our best baseball is absolutely ahead of us," Maddon said. "I am looking forward to that, but it has to be earned. Nothing is given to you in this game. The division is so much better. The group in general, the way we interact is a strong point. What we need is the consistent at-bats the way we did it (Saturday in a five-run inning). That is what we need to do to become an elite team that we are capable of being."

Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have often referenced their goal of reaching the playoffs every season with the understanding thereafter that winning a championship can often be a crapshoot. When they sensed they had the best team in MLB in 2016, they went all-in by trading star prospect Gleyber Torres for star closer Aroldis Chapman, who was a key figure in the Cubs breaking their long championship drought.

The dynamic is different this time around, as the Cubs aren't the favorites. They would like to make additions ahead of the trade deadline on July 31, but they have to be wary of the cost as well.

"We are kind of in a proactive stance right now," Epstein said Saturday. "We are looking for things we can make happen because we have not been playing well for a while now. You look for things that can spur the team a little bit. We are kind of in that mindset and looking for ways to help the group. We are also engaged with Joe and the coaches to try and get more out of this group. That would put us in a better position as buyers too."

Maddon isn't surprised that the NL Central has been a close race and that the Cubs haven't asserted themselves yet.

"I have been saying all along the division has gotten better and more even over the past couple of years," Maddon said. "We are in a decent spot and still have not come close to playing our best brand of baseball.

"I really want to believe that is right around the corner. To be in the spot we are in considering everything, it's not horrible. I trust our guys. I believe in our guys, and I think you will see a better brand of all this in the second half."

Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine​.