Starting A Pitching Turnaround: Chicago Cubs Surging In Second Half

After a 43-45 first half, the Chicago Cubs have started the second half of the 2017 Major League Baseball season red hot. Heading into Friday afternoon’s series opener against St. Louis, the team had won six straight games in commanding fashion. During the win streak, the Cubs have had great starting pitching and a 2.67 team ERA.

Coming into the year, the Cubs were the odds-on favorite to win it all again. Prognosticators picked Chicago as a near-lock for a repeat and the whole world piled on the bandwagon. Things, obviously, haven’t gone so well. The Cubbies have continued to slide down the Power Rankings and even the team’s most bullish bettors have grown skeptical after big-time losses.

With the team from the North Side turning its fortunes around, it is once again a solid pick in our MLB Pick ‘Em Contests given the improvements in the rotation and at the plate.

It’s only appropriate that this team is heating up now. It needs to show a sense of urgency. Joe Maddon’s club did just that in the second half the last two years. In 2015, the team went 50-25 after the break and really took off in August, going 19-9. It was 50-23 in the second half last year and went 22-6 in August. It’s just starting a little bit earlier this time around.

Each of the last two years, the Cubs needed the hot streak. They’re in need of it again, but the urgency is even higher this time around with expectations through the roof.

The last time through the rotation, each starter recorded a win, allowing one or fewer runs. John Lackey lasted just five innings in his start, but the other four pitched more than six frames. Things should only get better with the return of Kyle Hendricks on the horizon. Third baseman Kris Bryant appears to have avoided serious injury and will be back in action soon, too.

This is a rotation that pitched to a 2.96 ERA with 81 wins in 2016. So far this year, its ERA is 4.47 with a 34-33 record despite most of the same names. Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Lackey all need to pick up their games. Arrieta’s best two months over his career have historically come in August and September. Lester has also pitched his best baseball down the stretch. The Cubs have big-game pitchers. And with the season now reaching its peak, all the games are big games.

Former White Sox hurler Jose Quintana and the return of Hendricks should beef up the starting five as the season progresses. Quintana looked invigorated in his initial start for the Cubs while Hendricks is the reigning NL ERA leader. Now that those two are in the fold, Mike Montgomery may be the odd man out. He could be a sixth man in the rotation or could transition back to the bullpen, where he provides some length.

Anthony Rizzo has slammed three bombs since the break, and he’s not alone showing power. Three other Cubs have hit a couple homers. Meanwhile, Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Addison Russell have all hit very well. The latter two are 9-for-22 and the former is 10-for-20 since the break.

In the first half, injuries weren’t a major issue compared to other squads. Most everything else that could go wrong, however, did go awry.

Kyle Schwarber was downright awful. A number of other players regressed, too. Only Rizzo and Bryant have been remotely close to what they were a year ago. Even they aren’t the same.

With such a young team, they looked poised for improvement more than decline, but that didn’t happen. Here in the second half, many players have nowhere to go but up.

Up is exactly where this team is headed. After breaking even on their run differential in the first half, they’ve outscored the Orioles and Braves, 44-17, to start the second half. Now it’s onto division rival St. Louis, which will look to spoil the Cubs’ current party.

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