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A wide swath of Chicago sports fandom has only one fundamental question at this point: Are the Cubs collapsing?
There is a good chance they are. But the team will have to double or even triple down on its poor play this month for all of it to result in missing the playoffs. In other words, this will have to be an unprecedented collapse even by Cubs standards for it to completely blow up the season.
In other, other words, a team can collapse for a good long while and still survive to slip into the postseason if it has enough of a cushion. But does anyone really believe that this team is close to being the best in the National League? Better than the Giants and their pitching staff?
And the Cub are obviously not better than the Mets, although I believe that all of New York's starting pitchers are now injured, so that's a positive.
Strangely enough, many in the local sports commentariat seemed to find real comfort in the Cubs managing to win a game on Sunday. In so doing, they managed to avoid being swept by their primary division rivals (maybe the Cardinals will stay in it - I'm guessing they won't), the Pirates.
Um, people, it was one game!
Despite the win, the Cubs lost five of their last six going into the break. They choked away two straight winnable series' against division rivals at home and added in a crushing make-up loss to the Braves in between. It has now been more than two months since the Cubs put together a sustained stretch of over .500 baseball. Yes the Dexter Fowler injury hurt, but other than that, the problem has been leading players not playing well enough.
The biggest concern by far is the fact that their two best starters are struggling, i.e., they are failing to stop losing streaks. Jake Arrieta has been mediocre for seven straight starts now and it is very, very hard to believe that the fact that his innings pitched numbers went through the roof last year (tossing almost 100 more frames in a season than he had ever pitched before) is not taking a toll.
Jon Lester has only been awful in his last two starts, but Cubs brass has to be worried about Lester. First and foremost, can you really count on a pitcher to be a big part of winning a championship when he is afraid to field bunts and make pick-off throws? It has been a year-and-a-half and I still do not understand how the Cubs didn't vet this guy more thoroughly before giving him a giant contract.
And at some point, the Pirates or someone else with at least a little speed are going to embarrass Lester with a bunt- and steal-fest like few big money Major Leaguers have been embarrassed before. The only thing that has saved Lester so far is that so many guys can't bunt anymore (and how much does that suck? Hey Triple-A hitters, here's an idea: if you want to make the Show, get better at bunting!)
Reinforcements are needed, and Theo and Jed struck out on their first major opportunity to grab them. The Cubs clearly need pitching help in the rotation and in the 'pen. Arizona had some to trade and last weekend the Red Sox swooped in and grabbed it, giving up two prospects for closer Brad Ziegler. Were the Cubs even in on Ziegler? If they weren't, why the hell not and if they were, how did they get outbid?
One final thought: hopefully everyone has calmed down regarding the rumored possibility of a Kyle Schwarber-for-Andrew Miller trade. I know Miller has awesome stuff. I also know he is a middle reliever. And you don't trade potential foundational, middle-of-the-lineup stars (do we have to go over again how many homers Schwarber had last year, especially in the playoffs?) for middle relievers. Theo and Jed also know this by the way.
If you could construct a trade where you received a big-time starting pitching prospect and Andrew Miller for Schwarber, maybe you start to consider it. Maybe.
And maybe the Cubs can hang on . . . if they get some help.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.