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Can the Cubs still make the trade deadline decision interesting?

Ryan Avatar
July 24, 2023

Do the Cubs need to get back to .500 before the front office considers buying at the trade deadline?

That’s not necessarily the criteria president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer laid out at the start of the homestand — he said making up ground on both first place in the National League Central and on .500 were part of the calculus — but it does feel like a number the team needs to reach at the very least to seriously be considered a playoff hopeful.

The players don’t exactly know if that’s the magic number or not, either. Cody Bellinger, whose two-run home run in the first inning Sunday started off the Cubs’ scoring in the 7-2 win over the Cardinals, said, “It’s a good number, but I don’t think that there’s maybe a certain number that we have to get to.” Jameson Taillon, who picked up the win after 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball, said, “I honestly don’t know. I really don’t. I’d be lying to you if I had an answer.”

From the outside, .500 seems like an important mark. It’s simple: You need to win more games than you lose. Being over .500 means you’ve managed to do that. In that sense, if you’re not at or over .500, does it make sense to invest in additions to the roster?

That’s the question facing the Cubs right now. After taking the final three games in the four-game set against St. Louis (following a series victory over Washington), they sit at 48-51. Various metrics say the Cubs should have a much better record than that — FanGraphs’ BaseRuns metric has them at 54-45 based on underlying data, for example — but they’ve lacked consistency.

“It feels like our record should be better than it is, but it’s not,” Trey Mancini said. “Your record is what it is. All you can do is look forward and put your best foot forward.”

Are they starting to find that? Now that they’ve won five of their last six games, the Cubs believe so.

“I think you’re just starting to see the best version of us, to some extent,” Cubs manager David Ross said.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in a nice run of wins. They’re now just three games below .500, 6 1/2 back of the Brewers in the division and 5 1/2 back of the NL Wild Card. But you also shouldn’t forget who the Cubs beat to get there. The Nationals and Cardinals are a combined 29 games below .500. Those were series the Cubs should’ve won.

Regardless, the Cubs will take those W’s at a time when they need to stack as many as possible. They have to show the front office that they can continue to compete if given the opportunity. They have two games against the White Sox on the South Side and four more against the Cardinals in St. Louis this week.

President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer is looking for a reason to not break this group up, and if they can continue this run into the next homestand a week from now, that may be what it takes to give Hoyer some confidence in this squad.

“I think we’re all in this together,” Ross said. “Jed’s watching. It’s a results-based industry we’re in. You’ve got to win games. So, the more we can do that, the more I’m sure the front office has confidence.”

“We can obviously put a lot of weight into the games over the next week, but we’ve also had months to show who we are,” Taillon said. “Obviously, you don’t want to overcook these games, but I do feel like we’re playing well right now and I do feel like we’re clicking in a lot of different areas.”

Most of the players in the locker room have been around long enough to understand the reality of the trade deadline. They’ve been through it before, whether they’ve been on the side of the buyers or the sellers. They understand that if they don’t take care of business on their end, they’ll likely have to say goodbye to some teammates leading up to the Aug. 1 deadline.

“As a player, obviously, you don’t want to see any of your teammates get traded and hope to keep everybody together,” Mancini said. “Hopefully, we can keep playing well.”

So, the Cubs’ objective for this upcoming week is as simple as it gets — win ballgames.

The players and coaches talk so much about controlling what they can control. This is where they can do that. They can control how they perform on the field. If they keep winning games, then they’ll make the deadline decision interesting.

They took care of business this past week. And considering their 22-15 record since June 9 (a 96-win pace over a full season), they’ve actually been playing like a better team for a few weeks now.

Would that stretch, plus another successful week on the road, be enough to convince Hoyer to let this team ride it out? Not often does a team get a shot to prove post-deadline that they can be a consistently good ballclub when they’d been pretty inconsistent the first four months of the year, but could this team be the outlier?

They clearly have the talent to be a better team than they’ve been. They’re not World Series contenders, but their deficit in the playoff race isn’t insurmountable. If they stay hot, that might be enough for Hoyer to keep the group together. And if Hoyer keeps the group together, the guys in the clubhouse believe they can complete that playoff push over the season’s final two months.

“I’ve been confident in it,” said Bellinger, who would be one of the Cubs’ top trade chips if they can’t stay hot this week. “I see the talent. I’ve been around some good teams, been on some good teams, and we’ve got the right guys in this clubhouse. I believe it.”

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