Opposite dugout: Cubs still alive despite lackluster first half

Manager: Joe Maddon (3rd season)
cubs-logo.jpg
Record:
43-45

Last 10 games: 4-6

Who to watch: 1B Anthony Rizzo (.259 with 20 HR, 56 RBIs), 3B Kris Bryant (.269 with 18 HR, 38 RBIs), C Willson Contreras (.261 with 65 hits), RHP Jake Arrieta (8-7, 4.35 ERA), RHP Wade Davis (2-0, 1.80 ERA, 16 saves)

Season series vs. Orioles: First meeting (3-0 in 2014)

Pitching probables:

July 14: LHP Mike Montgomery vs. RHP Kevin Gausman, 7:05 p.m., MASN
July 15: RHP Jake Arrieta vs. LHP Wade Miley, 7:05 p.m., MASN
July 16: LHP José Quintana vs. RHP Ubaldo Jiménez, 1:35 p.m., MASN

Inside the Cubs:

Let’s not mince words: It was a rough first half for the Cubs.

In fact, Chicago reached the All-Star break with the worst record by any defending World Series champion that won at least 100 games during its championship year.

Still, the Cubs are defending champs and are largely the same roster that broke the franchise’s 108-year curse last fall. But if they have hopes of making it back to the postseason, they’ll need to fix issues in-house and then try to overtake the surprising Milwaukee Brewers atop the National League Central.

The Cubs offense is a bit reminiscent of a line from the 2004 movie “Moneyball.” Several scouts were in the war room evaluating players for the upcoming season. And during a debate about one hitter, Athletics general manager Billy Beane’s character asked, “If he’s a good hitter, why doesn’t he hit good?”

The same could be said for this year’s Cubs offense. The lineup is nearly identical to a year ago, and boasts power hitters Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, along with reigning NL MVP Kris Bryant. Rizzo and Bryant are having respectable seasons, hitting 20 and 18 home runs, respectively.

Yet while the Cubs lead the senior circuit in home runs, they’re just 14th in the NL with a .239 batting average. Although he’s a fan favorite, Schwarber contributed to that number, batting just .178 with 29 RBIs on the season. He even got sent down to Triple-A in order to get out of a funk earlier this summer. Catcher Willson Contreras is having a nice season at the plate. The 25-year-old is hitting .269 and is third on the team in hits with 65.

It’s certainly been a rough year for left-hander Mike Montgomery. After beginning the season in the Cubs bullpen, Montgomery made his first start of the season on June 9. Since then, he’s made six starts and posted a 1-3 record with 5.40 ERA. Montgomery will aim to rebound from his most recent start, a 2 1/3-inning outing where he gave up seven earned runs in a loss against the Brewers.

Just more than four years after he was traded from Baltimore, Jake Arrieta returns to Charm City to start Saturday’s game against Orioles southpaw Wade Miley. Arrieta, of course, flourished once moving to Chicago’s north side, which made a lot of fans in Birdland twice as upset to see him go. But Arrieta hasn’t been invincible since capturing the NL Cy Young Award in 2015. He’s just 8-7 on the year and carries a 4.35 ERA, second-highest on the team among those who’ve made at least 10 starts.

And while Arrieta returns to his old stomping grounds Saturday, José Quintana will make his Cubs debut in Sunday’s series finale. Quintana was acquired by the Cubs from the White Sox on Thursday in exchange for, amongst other players, highly-touted outfield prospect Eloy Jimenez. Quintana is viewed by many to have the talent to lead a starting rotation, even with his lackluster career 50-54 record. In reality, that mark is likely a combination of inconsistencies on the mound and a string of White Sox teams that have finished better than fourth place in their division just once since 2012. Quintana will begin his tenure with the Cubs against Orioles right-hander Ubaldo Jiménez.

Wade Davis has enjoyed an All-Star season during his inaugural campaign with the Cubs. He is 2-0 and has 16 saves to accompany a stingy 1.80 ERA. Hector Rondon, Carl Edwards, and former Orioles Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop are also available in relief for the Cubs.

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