The All-Star break may have been exactly what the Chicago Cubs needed at exactly the right time. Coming off a 3-2 win against the New York Mets just before the break, the Cubs continued their winning ways in Philadelphia by kicking off the second half of the season with a three-game sweep of the Phillies.
The sweetest part about it: both the Cubs’ hitters and pitchers showed up in Philly, and it was a beautiful thing. Let’s look at some of the positives from the three-game road trip.
Morel Boosts the Morale
Christopher Morel has been a spark for the Cubs’ lineup ever since he was called up in May. This weekend was a reminder of how effective he can be when he’s hot, and hopefully a preview of more things to come for the young utility player.
In 12 at-bats, Morel had seven hits, including a three-hit game on Friday, with three doubles, three RBIs, four runs, one walk, and one stolen base. If there’s one player that Cubs fans need to keep their eyes glued on in the second half of the season, it’s Morel.
With his ability combined with his electricity, he has easily become the most exciting player to watch for the Cubs this year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if Morel can continue this kind of production throughout the rest of the season, don’t be surprised to see his name as a top candidate for NL Rookie of the Year at the end of the season.
Cubs’ Starting Pitching Shoves
With the offensive outbreak from the North Siders this weekend, it’s easy to forget that all three Cubs’ starting pitchers pitched very well in each of their outings.
On Friday night, Justin Steele didn’t let up even though his offense was bombarding the Phillies with a 15-run spot on the scoreboard. The lefty made sure he still did his job, allowing only one run and four walks while striking out two across five innings. Sure, he could’ve limited the walks, but any time a starter can throw five innings and only give up one run, his team will have a chance to win.
The trend continued Saturday with Marcus Stroman, who put together an excellent outing. In six innings, the right-hander gave up only one run on five hits and one walk with five strikeouts. Although he didn’t earn the decision, Stroman reminded everyone that when healthy he is one of the most effective pitchers in baseball. For the month of July, Stroman has posted a 1.26 ERA with 14 strikeouts, five walks, and a .160 OBA in 14.1 innings pitched.
Drew Smyly finished out the weekend series with a six-inning quality start. The lefty allowed just one run while striking out four and walking none to earn the win.
Smyly has been rumored to be on the move at the August trade deadline, so Sunday may have been his final showcase for potential buyers. In 55 innings this year, he owns a 3.93 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 12 walks.
Don’t be surprised if both Smyly and Stroman are mentioned in several trade rumors over the next week. But with the way they’re pitching right now, they could potentially bring back a decent haul for the Cubs.
Happ Continues All-Star Season
It’s common for players to drop off a little bit after the All-Star break, especially players that don’t get a break because they’re playing in the All-Star game. Apparently, this cliche doesn’t apply to Ian Happ.
Happ kicked off the first game of the second half with a four-hit performance on Friday night to match his teammate Seiya Suzuki. He followed that up with a hit in each of the next two games. For the series, Happ had six hits and an RBI.
It’s no surprise that Happ has been the subject of trade rumors over the past few months. Entering the season with fans questioning the switch-hitter’s consistency, he has put those concerns to bed. For the season, he’s slashing.280/.367/.444 with nine home runs, 23 doubles, 44 RBI, six stolen bases, and an All-Star selection to show for it.
With one more year of control remaining on his contract, it might not be a bad idea for the Cubs to put Happ on the trade market. If ownership isn’t planning on extending the All-Star outfielder, wouldn’t it make sense for the Cubs to shop him this year? Either way, if Happ’s bat continues to stay consistent, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him playing somewhere else on August 3.
What’s On Tap Next?
The Chicago Cubs head back home Monday to host the Pittsburgh Pirates in a short two-game series. Righty Adrian Sampson will take the ball for the Cubs and face off against Pittsburgh’s JT Brubaker. First pitch from Wrigley Field is at 7:05 CT and the game will air on Marquee Sports Network.
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