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Back on June 27, coming off an 11-3 stretch that had them oh so close to both .500 and first place in the National League Central, the Cubs entered the most important stretch of their season up to that point.
There were 13 games between that day and the All-Star break. Staying hot and ending that stretch above .500 — and at the very least remaining within striking distance of first place — would likely push the front office to buy at the deadline. Only a couple of those in the clubhouse have even played for a buying Cubs team — not just because there are plenty of younger or newer faces in the clubhouse, but because they just haven’t been in that position in years.
“The bulk of my career playing has been outside of the pennant race, division races, all that,” Nico Hoerner said then. “It’s where you want to be. You want to have a chance. You want to be acquiring players at the deadline, be on that that end of it. You want to be pushing. I feel like we’re a team that believes we have our best baseball ahead of us.”
Of course, the Cubs couldn’t keep that hot streak going. With travel to and from London, smoke filling the air in Chicago and multiple rain relays also playing a role, the Cubs went just 5-8 over that stretch. Instead of making up more ground and giving themselves a little more cushion, they entered the All-Star break knowing they had a lot of work to do on the other side.
That made this post-All-Star break stretch of games (17 total before the trade deadline at 5 p.m. on Aug. 1) now the most important stretch of the season. And after dropping three of four to kick it off following a 7-5 loss to the Nationals on Monday, they’ve pushed themselves closer to being guaranteed sellers for the third straight season.
“You just have to try to come out and play as a team and put all the pieces together,” said Drew Smyly, who allowed five earned runs in six innings and took the loss. “I have to pitch better. We need to hit, we’ve got to play defense. It’s a total team effort”
“It’s tough when you’re 7-8 games back,” Ian Happ said. “That’s the part that makes it tough. It’s not about time of the year. It’s about wanting to win games, to be in the race. That’s what we’re all here to do. We’re all here not to put up individual numbers. We’re all here to win baseball games for this team and this organization, so that we’re in it and have a chance to win the division and go to the playoffs. That’s what everybody in this clubhouse is trying to do, and the thing that makes it frustrating is that we’re not getting that done.”
When Happ signed his extension back in April, the Cubs locked down what they believed was a good core group of players in Happ, Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson. All signed through at least the 2026 season, any success the Cubs would have in this first season with that core was going to start with them. So, it’s no wonder that, since June 27, a lack of production from those four has been one of the major culprits of the team’s struggles.
- Swanson hasn’t played since July 5 due to a left heel contusion, which obviously hurts his ability to contribute. But even then, in the nine games did play after the Cubs got back from London, he hit just .189 with a .636 OPS
- Suzuki managed only a single Monday night, dropping his numbers since June 27 to a .220 average and a .618 OPS
- Hoerner struck out three times Monday night for just the second time in his career, bringing him down to a .205 average and a .535 OPS in the same timeframe
- Happ’s two-run homer in the sixth inning Monday night was a good sign, but he’s still hitting only .140 with a .472 OPS during this stretch
“We need the top of the offense to go,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “Nico is going through a little something right now. Happer, big home run, obviously that’s got to feel good. Get him going from the left side. Get Seiya going. We’ve gotten pretty good production from the bottom as of late. We’ve just got to, as a total offense, continue to have some some better production.”
With the loss, the Cubs now sit seven games below .500 (43-50) and 8 1/2 games of both the division and the Wild Card.
Before the homestand, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer discussed the current stretch of games and what the front office needs to see before making a decision on the deadline. Without divulging the exact criteria need to be buyers, Hoyer did say the team needs to make up ground on both first place in the division and on a .500 record. But with a 1-3 record since that chat with the media, the Cubs have only done the opposite.
Does this team still have a big winning streak in it? Potentially, though without the ability to control their own destiny, a big winning streak still might not be enough. All signs right now are pointing to the Cubs selling over the next two weeks.
The players understand they can’t control what the front office decides to do. They all still maintain their faith that this is a good team, and they believe they can really make some noise in this division if given the chance to do so the rest of the year.
But the reality is that teams don’t really get the chance to prove themselves over 162. With a trade deadline coming two months before the end of the season, the Cubs’ front office doesn’t have the luxury of letting things play out the entire year. And with how things look right now, the expectation has become that Hoyer and company won’t let things play out past Aug. 1.
“The trade deadline is obviously a real thing,” Hoerner said. “It’s real for every team. July is a month that does come with other factors between the break and the trade deadline, and those things can change things for sure. But there’s no change as far as how you play or how you approach it, and I think if anything, the attitude should just be attacking it, embracing it and doing it on our own terms. It’s not a decision anyone in this locker room is going to get to make, so we’re controlling it on our end of it as best we can.”
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