Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, left, and shortstop Addison Rusell

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Ostrowski: Grading The Cubs At Halfway Mark

The offense and bullpen have been strong, while the rotation has struggled.

Joe Ostrowski
July 02, 2018 - 11:19 pm
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(670 The Score) At the 82-game mark, the second-place Cubs have a 47-35 record with a National League-best plus-99 run differential. They in a much better spot than they were a year ago at this time, when they were a .500 team before taking control of the NL Central and winning the division by six games.

Now that we're just a game past the halfway point, it’s time to hand out the Cubs' midterm grades; extra credit won't be accepted.

Offense

When Joe Maddon’s team piles up a few losses, many quibble with specific aspects like hitting with runners in scoring position because there isn't much to complain about. It's one of the few statistical offensive categories in which the Cubs land closer to the middle of the pack.

The sweep of the Twins was a reminder that this is a premier offense, as if its first-half performance wasn’t already an indicator of that.

Through play Sunday play, this Cubs roster has the best batting average (.266) and on-base percentage (.345) in all of baseball. Their 5.12 runs per game is tops in the NL. They also have the NL’s best slugging percentage (.429), OPS (.774), wOBA (.333) and wRC+(107).

Albert Almora is hitting .331 and in an early battle with Scooter Gennett for the NL batting title. Javier Baez has driven in 61 runs, tied for the NL’s most RBIs. The Cubs have benefited from huge offensive jumps from Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist.

Grade: A+

Defense

It’s easier to start with the weaknesses on defense. Where are they? I’ll give you Ian Happ in center field, but Almora will be playing next to Jason Heyward when the games matter most. The defense is taken for granted when Addison Russell, Willson Contreras, Almora and Heyward are in the field.

It isn’t just the eye test. All of the metrics tell you that this is an elite defense. The Cubs rank top four in MLB in defensive runs saved, ultimate zone rating and defensive runs above average. They’re really, really good.

Grade: A-

Starting pitching

Imagining this rotation without 34-year-old ace Jon Lester is a scary thought. He looks like he did in Boston a decade ago, serving as the linchpin of the starting staff  with a 2.25 ERA. But there are reasons to be concerned moving forward. Lester’s 4.51 xFIP is double his earned run average and his 35.1 hard contact, 23.5 line drive and 85.1 strand rates are all career-highs.

Now imagine this rotation without Mike Montgomery replacing Yu Darvish with a 2.43 ERA and .207 batting average against in seven starts. Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood have failed to meet expectations. Then there’s Darvish and his multiple DL stints. A few Ds and an incomplete weigh down the rotation's grade.

Grade: C-

Bullpen

Closer Brandon Morrow was missed when his back was healing. He’s the kind of player whom you don’t think about until you can’t go to him for the three biggest outs of the game. Morrow has converted 18 of 19 save opportunities in his first full season as a closer.

Maddon trusts Steve Cishek as much as anyone in the bullpen. That's reflected in his workload, as Cishek is already 6 2/3 innings from matching his 2017 total. Past those two, there's been plenty of turnover elsewhere.

Six Cubs relievers have pitched in Triple-A and the big leagues this season. Five pitchers who have come out of the bullpen are on the disabled list.

Questions remain. Will Montgomery head back to the bullpen? If not, who's the best lefty out of the bullpen? Will Carl Edwards Jr. prove that Maddon can trust him once he returns?

Expect the express train from Iowa to Clark and Addison to continue for as long as the starters continue to struggle to go deep in games.

Grade: B+

Joe Ostrowski co-hosts Hit & Run with Barry Rozner on Sundays at 9 a.m. and is 670 The Score's weekday morning update anchor. Here's a link to his weekly sports betting podcast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeO670.​