Hang in there Cubs fans


by - Correspondent -
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Cubs hope to be celebrating in 2017 (Dennis Wierzicki - USA Today Sports)

CHICAGO -- Hang in there Cubs fans, winning baseball is not far away from the Northside. Following a series loss to the Rockies in Colorado and a sweep by the Yankees at Wrigley Field, the Cubs have fallen to a 17-17 record and a season-worst 4th place in the NL Central. Despite a poor start, the Cubs still have reason to feel optimistic for another deep run in October. The Cubs mediocre play is not going to continue, seeing as there is too much talent in the clubhouse to remain a .500 team. The reason for the Cubs lackluster performance is based more on the transition from playing playoff baseball to going back into the grind of the regular season. Playing into November has made it difficult for the Cubs to find a groove at this point in the season. The energy and celebration surrounding this team through the first part of the season have put them in unfamiliar territory. Jon Lester has pointed out how for this team, given the circumstances, April has felt more like spring training than the start of the regular season. Joe Maddon has blamed lack of sleep for not allowing the players to settle in. Despite the reasons for the Cubs dismal performance, these trends will not continue.

First for Cubs fans to consider is that Kyle Schwarber and Anthony Rizzo are yet to find their strokes at the plate. Both of the Cubs powering hitting lefties have struggled to this point, posting averages of .195 and .218 with a combined 11 homeruns to his point. Schwarber’s struggles can be attributed to adjusting to hitting leadoff for the first time in his career, as well as the fact he is still extremely young and yet to play a full season in the majors. Rizzo has been among the most consistent run producers in the National League during his tenure as a Cub. He is a perennial 30 homerun, 100 RBI man and will be again this season once he heats up. Cubs fans can count on Schwarber and Rizzo getting hot sooner than later, and when they do this will be an intimidating lineup to stare down. The lefty-righty-lefty mix of Schwarber, Kris Bryant, and Rizzo is already a scary sight for pitchers when starting a game, and when they get going, this will be a nearly unstoppable trio.

Along with a lineup that is waiting to explode, the Cubs run prevention is bound to return to form in the near future. The Cubs have made uncharacteristic defensive mistakes to this point in the season which they are sure to correct. The Cubs were at the top of nearly every defensive category last season and are returning almost all their key defenders. The clubhouse is filled with defensive stars such as shortstop Addison Russell, three time gold glove right fielder Jason Heyward, gold glove first baseman Anthony Rizzo, emerging star centerfielder Albert Almora Jr. and infield phenom Javier Baez. Those are just some of the Cubs to have either won gold gloves, or are eyeing one in the future. To go along with a stacked defense, the starting pitching has shown signs of life recently. Jon Lester, John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks have all looked impressive in their last starts and hopefully are close to being back on track. Despite losses in the games pitched by Lester and Hendricks, the pitchers looked reminiscent of the guys to take the mound last year and finish second and third in Cy Young voting. The pieces to a championship team are there this year again, and sooner or later they will fit together.

Last season the team clicked from day one and went on a 25-6 tear to start the season. This group requires a different path, but not necessarily a different result. The 2016 team hit a rough patch last year after their strong start, playing mediocre baseball and going 12-14 in July. However, they recovered and went on to lead the majors with 103 wins. Even if the 2017 Cubs team can’t emulate what they did last regular season, they are still well within reaching the mark of the 2015 Cubs. The 2015 team struggled to just play .500 baseball through May and June and went into the all-star break at 47-40. After the break the team caught fire and went on to win 50 of their final 75 games, giving them a season total of 97 wins. They finished third that year in a strong NL Central, but this year 97 wins should almost guarantee another division title.

The Cubs fly into St. Louis this weekend with an excellent opportunity to reset and move forward. They trail the Cardinals by only 2.5 games, and that’s after the Cubs have started the season well below their potential. The NL Central is not strong this season, and no team has been able to put any significant cushion between themselves and the Cubs during the slow start. When the Cubs find their game, and they will, they will have no issue making up the difference and should take the NL Central crown for a second consecutive year.

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