The Rundown: Cubs Have Seized Control of NL Central, Happ Outperforming Vaunted Expectations, Mets Latest Team With Positive COVID-19 Cases

“If its and buts were candy and nuts, wouldn’t it be a Merry Christmas?” – Don Meredith

With 40% of the season in the books, the Cubs sit atop the NL Central with a 16-8 record and a .961 probability of making the postseason. The trade deadline is 10 days away and though the season is barely a month old, the Cubs will exit their upcoming crosstown series with the White Sox on Sunday and head into the 2020 home stretch.

Despite baseball’s short-season math giving the Cubs with a theoretical 11-game cushion over their rivals from St. Louis and Milwaukee, the Cardinals still have up to eight makeup games remaining. Those pesky Brewers, who always seem to be a thorn in the side of Cubs fans, could be primed for another strong September. The North Siders have just three games left with the Brew Crew, and Milwaukee has been nearly unbeatable during the final month of baseball the last two summers.

The September schedule doesn’t favor the Brewers as much as years past, and with fans unlikely to be able to attend any regular season games, home field doesn’t matter as much either. The Brewers and Cardinals have to play each other 10 more times this season, with three doubleheaders on the docket. Each has five home games remaining against the other, though the Brewers will get last at-bats in one of the games at Busch Stadium.

If the Cubs can manage to play .550 baseball the rest of the way, they’d finish with 36 wins on the season. That would force the Cardinals to go 29-17 (.630) just to tie and Milwaukee would need to go 25-12 (.676). If one of the two rivals doesn’t knock the other out of the race, Chicago could win the division in a cakewalk, as neither team can afford to lose even one series right now.

With that in mind, what would you do at the trade deadline if you were Theo Epstein? A significant move seems unlikely, which means the Cubs will enter this winter as repeat violators of the game’s luxury tax restrictions. That may mean it’s time to go chips in, especially with a number of contract extensions looming on the horizon. If it were my team, I’d want to acquire a starting pitcher and a hard throwing reliever, provided Brennen Davis is not part of any outbound package.

That may mean Brailyn Marquez and Miguel Amaya are the likeliest of Chicago’s trade chips, and Nico Hoerner or David Bote shouldn’t be dismissed either because of the team’s depth. Another option would be to promote Burl Carraway, though there are no expanded rosters this season. Teams will play with 28-man squads through the end of the season.

Who might the Cubs consider? The list of pitchers who could be moved (or at least available) include Johnny Cueto, Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, Trevor Rosenthal, Ian Kennedy, Kevin Gausman, Daniel Norris, Archie Bradley, Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes, Trevor Williams, and Mychal Givens, who was mentioned in this column yesterday. Other than Lynn and possibly Bradley, none of those players should cost the Cubs a top prospect. However, expanded playoffs and the nature of the season in general will change the math.

The Cubs would like to see José Quintana come back strong, for Kris Bryant to get healthy, and for some of their slumping hitters like Javier Báez, Willson Contreras, and Anthony Rizzo to get hot. That could make the need to trade any of the team’s top prospects negligible at best, especially with what appears to be an improving bullpen.

Cubs News & Notes

  • David Ross has a “magic formula” to help his pitchers better prepare themselves, and it’s basically allowing his staff to simply get comfortable (subscription to The Athletic required).
  • I’m not sure of the alchemy Ross has worked on Craig Kimbrel, but it’s working well and the reliever has been downright nasty in his last few appearances.
  • Ian Happ has been the team’s best hitter so far this season and his career trajectory nearly matches that of Bryce Harper.
  • Happ could be the one player who bridges the gap from one Cubs championship to the next.
  • The slugging outfielder leads the team in BA, OBP, OPS, home runs, and RBI, and has been the X-factor Ross predicted during the offseason.
  • With so many right-handed hitters struggling for the Cubs right now, Happ could be the key to today’s game against the White Sox and southpaw Dallas Keuchel.
  • Showing no sense of panic, Ross remains fully supportive of the top of the order: “You must have trust in your players.”
  • The 15-11 White Sox will arrive at Wrigley for tonight’s game carrying elite offensive firepower as one of the league’s hottest teams right now.
  • Bryant and Red Bull made a video where the third baseman mimics things that Cubs fans tend to say, and though he tries, he doesn’t sound as “Chicago” as your typical Wrigley denizen.

Apropos of Nothing

I know Epstein gets hammered at times for his free agent signings, and though Yu Darvish has been a shining example of free agency at its best, the fact remains that few signings are ever worth the headlines they initially garner. Nathan Eovaldi of the Red Sox is a great example. The 30-year-old righty parlayed one very good season and a boatload of potential into a $68 million deal, and he’s given Boston just 155 innings and seven wins in two-plus seasons. Eovaldi is completely frustrated with himself.

Odds & Sods

This is why you don’t switch to autopilot just to show mercy on your opponent. Take note, Fernando Tatis Jr., please and thank you. I don’t suppose Jayce Tingler and Chris Woodward are capable of changing their stripes, however.

How About That!

The Mets were forced to postponed last night’s game with the Marlins after two members of their organization tested positive for coronavirus. Their game with the Yankees this evening has been canceled, too, and the rest of the subway series is questionable pending further testing.

The Mets chose to fly back to New York on Thursday night, but the two infected members of their traveling party remained in Miami, along with the people they had been in contact with.

The Mariners may be making Taijuan Walker and Kyle Seager available in trade.

The rest of the season will not afford very much downtime for the Cardinals.

The Reds have been a huge disappointment so far this season.

How the Phillies navigate the rest of this week and next may determine if they are buyers or sellers at the deadline. Not for nothing, J.T. Realmuto will be a free agent this winter.

Joe Maddon is fed up with Giants pitchers throwing at the heads of his players.

Thursday’s Top Three Stars

  1. Lucas Giolito – In a 12-0 whitewashing of the Tigers, Giolito three-hit Detroit over seven innings with 13 strikeouts. Thankfully the Cubs won’t see the righty starter this series.
  2. Shane Bieber – Cleveland’s ace continued his domination with an 11-strikeout, no-run outing in the Indians’ 2-0 win over the Pirates. Bieber has 65 punchouts through six starts, a feat that has been bested by only Nolan Ryan and Pedro Martínez since 1990.
  3. San Diego Padres -The Friars became the first team in MLB history to hit a grand slam in four straight games when Eric Hosmer lined a pitch from Kyle Gibson off the top of the fence in right during San Diego’s 8-7 win over the Rangers.

Sliding Into Home

When the girls were growing up they used to say “we good we bad” to imply that things were better than great, and I loved the way they’d dance or twirl around when saying it. I had my first positive checkup at the transplant center yesterday: weight is now down from just shy of 279 to 243.8 pounds and my enzymes are dropping as a result. Do I have to say it? We good we bad.

Extra Innings

Not a baseball note, but Chicago fans may want to send well wishes and virtual hugs to former Monster of the Midway Ron Rivera.

They Said It

  • “Yu Darvish being free to be himself is the magic formula.This guy can really do a lot of things with a baseball and follow a game plan. The more you can let these guys be free — that’s what I thought Joe did such a great job of here — and let the players be themselves, (that’s) the main thing.” – David Ross
  • “As far as talent, I don’t think we’re lacking there compared to that team [Cubs] anymore. For us, there is that certain level of pride playing that team from the North Side. I’m looking forward to this series, it’s going to be a lot of fun.” – Lucas Giloito

Friday Walk Up Song

Do You Feel Like We Do? by Peter Frampton – Just a mood. The days are getting shorter and I’m feeling like I need my late summer Frampton fix.

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