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Cubs need to find consistency ahead of the trade deadline

Jared Wyllys Avatar
July 19, 2023

Buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

That’s the big question lingering over the Cubs these days. The Aug. 1 deadline is less than two weeks away, and the direction the front office will take is not always easy to predict.

What they do leading up to that day does not hinge on any one game or series, but the reality is that this homestand is the last opportunity for the current Cubs roster to make its case to the people running the team to bring them reinforcements.

Tuesday night’s 17-3 win over the Nationals was a microcosm of just how hard deciphering this season has been. It could become the catalyst for a decisive stretch of games going forward. Or it could be a goofy blip in the big picture of a Cubs year that has not met the mild expectations of the preseason.

The concern is consistency. Can this team play well enough over a sustained period to both close the gap in the division and demonstrate to the front office that getting help at the deadline is the path to take?

On that front, the Cubs have been frustrating, even to themselves.

“It seems like that’s been the question all year. We’ve kind of been hot and then cold,” Jameson Taillon said. “Just a little too streaky, which is weird because there’s a lot of veteran, super professional guys in there. So I think the streakiness is a little bit weird.”

Taillon knows he has played a role in that streakiness. He has not been the starting pitcher the Cubs expected when they signed him for four years, $68 million last winter. He has been open all season about his struggles and what he has done to try and improve. And until maybe his last two starts, the results have not been there.

Following up on a stellar outing in New York before the All-Star break, Taillon missed tossing a quality start on Tuesday by one out. Perhaps affected by the eleven-day layoff between starts, he took seven or eight batters to shake off the rust. In the first inning, Lane Thomas sent a fastball left too high in the zone into the bleachers, and then after giving up three consecutive hits and two more runs in the second, Taillon settled in and pitched into the sixth. 

His performance in the middle innings was ultimately part of what allowed the Cubs to stage their comeback. They narrowed the 3-0 deficit by one run in the fourth inning and then tied the game in the sixth on a home run by Seiya Suzuki and back to back singles by Ian Happ and Cody Bellinger. The Cubs went on to score 17 unanswered runs — 14 of them in the seventh and eighth innings. Patrick Wisdom hit the go-ahead homer to lead off the seventh, the hardest hit ball of his career at 114.4 mph off the bat.

That homer marked Wisdom’s third in his last four games. He was activated from a wrist injury on July 4, and he is showing signs of heating up. After posting a .083 slugging percentage in June, Wisdom is slugging .833 in his last seven contests.

“Just kind of reaffirming the things that we as a group have been working on down in the cage and in my work,” Wisdom said of his recent performance. “Being able to do that and do it more consistently in the game, that’s the goal.”

Consistency is really the goal for the team as a whole. All teams go through hot and cold stretches, but the Cubs have not been able to get hot and sustain it for significant periods of time. That’s part of why they might see players like Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger headed to other teams.

The question coming out of Tuesday’s big win is whether they can build off of it. Any time a baseball team scores that many runs, it’s a fluke to some degree, but there are elements of a 17-3 win that can carry forward.

“That is the key, maintaining the consistency. Not putting up 20 hits and a bunch of runs in a game, but I think coming through and doing the little things right,” Wisdom said. “Moving the guy over, getting them in. I think those are important things to just note, and I think we did a really good job of that tonight. And it shows when you’re putting up runs, those little things do happen.”

Starting Wednesday, the Cubs play 12 more games before the trade deadline — one more against the Nationals, eight against the Cardinals and two against the White Sox. The schedule has lined up for them to pile up some wins in that stretch, but the bigger question will be if the Cubs can play at a level that shows the front office they can win against the tougher teams in August and September to justify buying at the deadline.

That will be a hard case to make, given the reality of both Stroman and Bellinger’s contract situations, not to mention a few others on the roster who would be appealing trade pieces as well. The National League Central is one of the weakest divisions in baseball this year, but zooming out, president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer and general manager Carter Hawkins also have to consider that the way they handle this trade deadline will impact the franchise in 2024 and beyond. 

But in the short term, the players still in the locker room have 12 games before the deadline, and all they can control is what happens on the field during those games.

“It comes down to the results,” Taillon said. “You have to put the wins up.”

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