Powell: First Half Takeaways For The Cubs And White Sox

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 11: Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs hits a grand slam against the Chicago White Sox during the first inning of a game at Wrigley Field on May 11, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

By Kevin Powell

It’s not exactly the official halfway point of the MLB season, but the All-Star break is a good time to take a look at what went wrong, what went right and what teams need to accomplish over the final few months of the season.

For the Cubs, they’ve played a majority of the season without Yu Darvish, Kris Bryant spent time on the DL for the first time and they still managed to finish with the best National League record at 55-38. They have a 2.5 game lead on the Brewers in the division.

For the South Siders, it’s been pretty much what we expected. Flashes of hope. Plenty of frustrations. And a whole lot of losses.

Here are away a few pre-All-Star break takeaways from each team in town.

CUBS

-All things considered, the Cubs are in a great spot. They’ve been sort of a hot and cold team this season. From April 26-30, they reeled off five straight wins. Followed by five consecutive losses, before 5 W’s in a row. June 1-9 they took seven of eight before losing eight of 11 from June 17-27.

-Going into the All-Star break last season, the Cubs were two games under .500, but they went 49-25 down the stretch, won the NL Central and went back to the NLCS. In the World Series season, they were 53-35 at the break, and went 50-23 over the final 73 games. In 2015, they were 47-40 by the Midsummer Classic. And again, they finished strong after the break, winning 50 of the final 75.

The point is that Joe Maddon knows how to manage down the stretch. And the Cubs know how to close. Considering they’ve played with an injured and shaky starting rotation, they have to be happy with where they’re at.

-What’s up with Yu? Remember, the goal isn’t for the Cubs to get back to the postseason. The goal is to win the World Series. That’s where they’re at as a franchise. World Series or bust. Do I think they can win the World Series without Darvish? Maybe. But a healthy Darvish would make things a whole lot easier. It’s pretty much been a disastrous start to Darvish’s career in Chicago.

– It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t talk about Javy Baez. Exciting. Entertaining. Fun. Those are the adjectives you hear thrown around when fans and media talk about the All-Star second baseman. He’s been spectacular and he has a good chance at winning MVP. He leads the NL in RBI (72). And he’s maybe the most talked about player in all of baseball. Huge year for Javy.

WHITE SOX

-The biggest downer of the season has been injuries in the farm system. Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez and Micker Adolfo have all missed time. Adolfo needed Tommy John surgery. His timetable for a return is 8-10 months. And they’re monitoring Dane Dunning’s elbow. Progress is in development and the prospects aren’t going to get any better if they’re on the DL. The key for the final couple months is to just get everyone through healthy.

– 23 and 22. Those are the numbers I like to bring up when Sox fans talk about any Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech’s struggles. Yoan is 23. Kopech is 22. They’re young. They’re developing. I have almost zero doubt that Moncada is going to be a really good player. He’s too talented.

Kopech walked 27 batters in six starts in June. Command has been the issue. But in his most recent start he struck out 11 over six innings and issued just one free pass. It was one of his best starts of the season and a reminder to all of baseball why there’s so much hype around him.

-Meanwhile at the big league level, manager Rick Renteria gave his club a first half D grade.

“I think right now we’re at a D,” he said before Sunday’s game. “In that there are things that we need to keep improving upon. But I would say effort level is at a B-plus to an A.”

I actually agree with Renteria. It’s hard to not give it an overall bad grade when you’re off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. But wins and losses aren’t really important this year. Individual growth is what matters. And it was encouraging to see two major pieces to the rebuild be the driving forces in a 10-1 win on Sunday. Lucas Giolito walked off the diamond to a standing ovation after throwing 6 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. At the plate, Moncada had a huge day going 3 for 4 with a walk and RBI. Wins like that matter a little more in a season like this.

Kevin Powell covers Chicago baseball for WGN Radio and anchors sports on The Roe Conn Show with Anna Davlantes, M-F/3-7pm. Follow on twitter @kpowell720