What is the Hangover Cure for the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians?
More than a third of the way into the Major League season, both of last year’s World Series teams find themselves in similar and frustrating situations: hovering around .500 and stuck behind a surprise first place club. The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians are mired with a persistent hangover. And while most assume that they will surely figure it out in time for the postseason, that does not mean there is no reason to worry.
The Cubs are particularly worrisome, thought to be a contender for years to come following last year’s championship- their first in 108 years. Team-building guru Theo Epstein seemed to have concocted a roster of young position players that would keep the Cubs in first place for the next five seasons. But the Cubs’ problems can actually be boiled down quite simply.
Their good players are not playing well.
Beloved slugger Kyle Schwarber is hitting just .172/.296/.377 with 11 home runs and 26 RBI’s, a far cry from the production we’ve seen in performances past, most notably in last season’s World Series in which he batted .412/.500/.471 after receiving only 5 regular season plate appearances due to injury. Schwarber’s poor play has forced manager Joe Maddon to experiment with leaving the fan favorite on the bench.
Catcher Willson Contreras has seen a dip in every offensive statistic. Last season, he hit .282/.357/.488 with 12 home runs in just 76 games. This year, the flashy Contreras is posting a mediocre .240/.308/.383 slash line with 5 home runs in 56 games.
The steady utility man Ben Zobrist appears to have met father time, hitting only .223/.321/.394.
Even superstars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have seen a dip in production, although their play has not been nearly as troubling as that of Chicago’s starting pitchers.
Jon Lester, who came second in Cy Young voting a year ago, has pitched to a 3.89 ERA in 14 starts. That’s much higher than the 2.44 ERA he posted last season.
Following three dominant seasons in which is ERA did not go above 3.10, Jake Arrieta’s ERA has now skyrocketed to 4.68, a troubling statistic for a player who has free agency looming on the horizon.
After a dazzling 2016 campaign in which he posted a 2.13 ERA, Kyle Hendricks has a 4.09 ERA in 2017 and is now on the Disabled List with tendinitis in his right hand. There is no timetable for his return.
Last, but certainly not least, veteran right-hander John Lackey currently owns the highest ERA of his career with a 5.26 mark.
It’s difficult to find a piece that the Cubs should add because their are supposed to be no holes on the roster. Every position group- the lineup, starting rotation, bullpen, and bench- are all supposed to be among the best in baseball.
The most obvious way to fix the Cubs is for their good players to start playing like good players. It’s a maddeningly simple proposition for a team that was the favorite from start to finish in 2016, but it appears as though that just might not happen in 2017.
It’s easy to say that the Cubs players will turn it around and difficult to even find a place to bring in reinforcements due to the prior success of so many on the team. This is why we all seem to assume the Cubs will be fine- because what is happening to them does not make sense.
It’s not like other teams in the NL Central are blowing the Cubs away in the standings. Entering Wednesday, the Milwaukee Brewers are just two games above .500 and a game ahead of Chicago in the division. By now the Cubs were supposed to blowing teams like the Brewers out of the water, a simple task in the midst of what was expected to be a dynasty type of run.
The Indians are dealing with a similar dilemma.
Their star, Francisco Lindor, has a disappointing .254/.318/.487 slash line.
Cleveland’s big free agent acquisition Edwin Encarnacion is slashing .243/.352/.443 with 12 home runs and 27 RBI’s after going .263/.357/.529 with 42 home runs and 127 RBIs in 2016.
Ace Corey Kluber currently has his highest ERA since 2012 with a 4.38 mark.
And much like the Cubs, the Indians find themselves sitting two games in the standings behind a surprising team. Thus far, the Minnesota Twins have edged out the Indians for first place in the AL Central despite having the worst team ERA in the American League.
So where do you fix the Indians? Where is the position group so desperate for reinforcements that the front office should give away some of their assets? This is an especially difficult question when you remember that the Indians gave away many of their minor league pieces at the deadline last season.
Not the bullpen, where Andrew Miller’s 0.55 ERA and Cody Allen’s 2.19 ERA have been fantastic.
Not the rotation, where Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer should pitch better moving forward and with Danny Salazar expected to return from injury by the end of June.
And probably not the starting lineup, where good players like Lindor and Encarnacion just need to start being good again.
For the Cubs and Indians, the solution is in-house and it it simple: be a better version of themselves.