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Monday morning Cubs thoughts: Picking up the pieces from a lost week at Wrigley

Ryan Herrera Avatar
May 9, 2022

Happy Monday, folks!

We’re heading into a new week, which means I have another set of my Monday thoughts for you to dig into this morning. It was a wild weekend as far as roster movement goes, but none of that shuffling made up for the 0-5 week the Cubs experienced.

Things just aren’t looking up for the team right now, whether it’s on the field (the Cubs start the new week with a three-game series in San Diego), in the trainer’s room (Marcus Stroman is on the injured list and Justin Steele left Sunday’s game early with an ailment) or on the transaction list (Frank Schwindel is now with the Iowa Cubs).

So OK, let’s really get into it.

Here they are, everyone, my Monday morning Cubs thoughts — May 9 edition.

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Like I said, the Cubs lost every game since my last Monday morning Cubs thoughts came out.

Honestly, it’s not a complete shocker. They faced the White Sox twice and the Dodgers thrice, losing all five by a combined 20 runs (and scoring just seven times themselves). But that’s five losses against two teams with World Series aspirations this season, which is not the spot the Cubs find themselves in right now.

Those losses also come after the road trips to Atlanta and Milwaukee in which Chicago dropped four of six combined. Put it all together and you’ve got the Cubs sitting at 9-18 heading into this new week, with FanGraphs giving them a 1 percent chance at making the playoffs as of Sunday night.

We knew these last four series, all coming against teams who have a very real shot at making the playoffs if not winning their divisions, would be a tough time for the Cubs to have much success. The 11-game stretch went about as expected, with the team going 2-9 and averaging under two runs a game.

Again, we knew this section of the schedule was going to be tough, and it doesn’t get any easier with the upcoming three-game set in San Diego against the 19-10 Padres (followed by a three-game set in Arizona against the surprising 15-14 Diamondbacks). That’s also what makes losing three of four at home to the Pirates— a team that’s supposed to be tanking yet sits two games ahead of the Cubs in the National League Central standings — sting even more.

The Cubs really did need that series win. You take three of four against a team you should take three of four from, and you can be forgiven for dropping four straight series against playoff-caliber teams. But the Cubs still haven’t won a series since taking two of three from the Brewers to begin the year, and there’s a very real chance they still won’t have another series win before they return from this road trip.

At that point, they’ll have Pittsburgh back at Wrigley Field, and with a loss total that might be nearing 25, that could feel even more like a must-win series for this club.

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Outside of watching their team get swept, this weekend probably hurt even more for Cubs fans when they looked over to the visitor’s dugout and saw the team that was doing the sweeping.

The Dodgers are who Cubs fans thought their team would be back when the last influx of their top prospects started breaking into the big leagues. The Cubs, to their credit, did make the playoffs in five out of six seasons from 2015-20, but after the Cubs’ World Series run in ’16 (which included eliminating Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series), it just didn’t feel like they were in a place to truly compete for another one. And then, as we all know, that core was broken up before last August.

On the other hand, the Dodgers — who won their own World Series trophy in the 2020 pandemic season — are still seemingly at the peak of their power. They’ve been to nine straight postseasons, and barring something crazy happening, they’ll make it 10 this October. They play in one of the biggest markets, and by the looks of their 2022 payroll (FanGraphs projects it at $256 million, No. 2 in baseball), they spend like it, too. Plus, with players like Gavin Lux and Will Smith on the roster, they’re clearly still very good at producing big-league players.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are in their second “rebuild” in about a decade. No, the Cubs won’t say that word, specifically, and they definitely don’t want this to be a repeat of when the organization stripped everything down to the studs in the early 2010s. That ultimately turned into the franchise’s first World Series title in 108 years, but a team that plays in a market like Chicago shouldn’t ever have to go through the type of rebuild that sees it lose 286 games over three seasons.

Right now, the Dodgers are what the Cubs should strive to be. An organization that consistently puts out a winner. An organization that is willing to spend money on high-profile free agents. An organization that is consistently successful at the major league level while also keeping the minor leagues stocked with talent (Los Angeles has six prospects on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100; Chicago has just two).

The Cubs aren’t there yet, and we’re still not entirely sure when “The Next Great Cubs Team” will arrive. Once that happens, though, Chicago doesn’t have much of an excuse to not be on Los Angeles’ level for the long haul.

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Now, let’s get into some of the roster news.

First up, the biggest shocker of the weekend: Frank Schwindel was optioned to Triple-A Iowa on Sunday.

Schwindel has certainly struggled over the first month of the season, and as manager David Ross told reporters on Sunday, ““This is a league (where) you got to produce.” Over 96 plate appearances this season, Schwindel slashed .209/.250/.308 and owned a 61 wRC+. What a far cry from his two-month breakout at the end of 2021, when those numbers read .342/.389/.613 with a 163 wRC+. He’s walking less, he’s striking out more and both his barrel and hard-hit percentages are way down.

Schwindel has minor league options left, but it’s still somewhat jarring that in just over a month, the Opening Day first baseman is down in the minors. Not that the Cubs have ever been against something like that, as we’ve seen key players like Ian Happ and Kyle Schwarber sent down to work on some things before being called back to the active roster in the past.

This doesn’t mean Chicago has given up on “Frank the Tank,” and spending some time shoring things up in a much less stressful environment could certainly help him. But that news was still not what I was expecting to come out of Sunday’s series finale against Los Angeles.

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As shocking as it was to see Schwindel get optioned, it does show that the Cubs are willing to send down anyone they believe needs time to work things out.

I’ve seen Nick Madrigal’s name floated out there as someone who might need some time down in Triple-A, and as he’s struggled to a slash line of .213/.263/.516 and a 58 wRC+, that’s definitely not the wildest thing to speculate.

Could Ethan Roberts also see himself sent back down to Iowa if he can’t improve on his 8.22 ERA, 2.09 WHIP and .323 opponents average when he comes off the 10-day injured list? If Patrick Wisdom didn’t turn things around following his 1-for-21 start to the season, could he have been a candidate?

Seiya Suzuki might be the only player on the active roster with options remaining that won’t get sent down (I’d be incredibly shocked to see Chicago options its $85 million man at any point), which speaks to just how much this roster could shake up in 2022.

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In other roster news that I certainly wasn’t expecting, Marcus Stroman is now on the injured list.

The Cubs announced the move without an injury designation, indicating that the IL placement is COVID-19 related. That also makes sense when taking into account that Adrian Sampson took Schwindel’s place on the active roster without requiring a 40-man roster move.

The team won’t confirm that it’s COVID-related. If it is, of course you hope for good health for Stroman and anyone else around him. This situation, however, is just a reminder that we’re not out of the woods yet.

We have full capacity at MLB ballparks. Reporters have access to the clubhouse again. Beyond Tommy Nance getting put on the COVID related IL back in spring training and Brailyn Marquez having a late start to camp as he dealt with his own case of COVID, there just hasn’t been much talk about it around the Cubs this season. It really did feel for a second like we were getting past it, but as much as we all want it to be over, we’re not there yet.

Just look at Chicago’s COVID numbers. Things are going back up. So again, while we hope for good health for Stroman if his IL placement is indeed COVID related, it does serve as a necessary reminder that we’re not quite done dealing with situations like this.

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So Stroman was scratched from his start Sunday due to his IL placement, and now, Justin Steele is dealing with an injury.

It’s left thumb soreness, according to the team, and it was enough to take Steele out of his start on Sunday after four innings. Steele and Ross both sounded postgame like they weren’t too concerned about the injury, with Steele telling reporters, “It kind of feels stoved up, a little sore, maybe a bruise or something.”

It would definitely be a huge benefit for the team if he doesn’t need a stint on the IL and can make his next start, because the Cubs really need some stability (and more innings) from the rotation. Following the completion of the series on Sunday, Cubs starters had pitched just 114 1/3 innings in 2022, the fourth-lowest total in baseball. Meanwhile, Chicago’s relief corps had covered 119 2/3, the sixth most in MLB.

With Stroman on the shelf for now, Steele hitting the IL would make it 40 percent of the rotation that’s out. The team only just got Drew Smyly back from the bereavement list on Saturday, and they ended up having to throw Daniel Norris in Game 2 of the doubleheader. There just isn’t much stability in that rotation at the moment, and another injury is the last thing the Cubs need as they try to right the ship.

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Fortunately for Chicago, Wade Miley and Alec Mills should provide some of that stability when they do return from the injured list.

Miley seems to be close, as he just made his first rehab start on Thursday and looked good doing it. The Cubs are still taking things slow considering the left elbow inflammation popped up when he really started ramping up in spring training, but he told reporters on Saturday that he felt good during and after, so it may be in the next couple of weeks that he makes his season debut.

Mills is a bit further away, but remember, he was already in a rehab assignment of his own when he experienced some right quad tightness that forced the team to pull back on the reins. He’s back to playing catch, and the hope is that he can resume that rehab assignment soon.

Neither Miley nor Mills will be throwing complete games right out of the gate, but they are veteran pitchers who should at the very least be able to eat a bunch of innings consistently. Miley is for sure a rotation piece, and Ross said during spring training that he was planning on using Mills as a starter. So it’s expected that both will join the rotation upon being activated off the IL.

And whenever the Cubs do get both of those arms back, it will be a huge boon for the pitching staff as a whole.

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In case you missed them, here are some Cubs articles from the past week:

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