The first half of the 2017 MLB season was a frustrating one for Cubs’ fans. The defending champs stumbled out of the gate and never quite seemed to regain their footing. There would be flashes of brilliance, where Cubs Twitter would excitedly announce “the Cubs are back!” only to be sent back crashing down to Earth when the team would go on another losing streak.
One of the biggest reasons for this struggle was that the Cubs were almost always playing catch up. Through the team’s first 88 games, they had allowed 80 runs in the first inning! For comparison, they only allowed 71 first inning runs in ALL of 2016. The icing on the proverbial cake came in the last game before the All-Star break against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The normally reliable Jon Lester was walloped by the Bucs for 10(!) runs in the top of the first. While it was not entirely Lester’s fault, as the Cubs’ defense committed a pair of errors, it seemed to be a culmination of the infuriatingly average first half the team had put together.
It was not just Lester who struggled, but the entire starting five. Jake Arrieta looked about ready to be shipped out after the season, while John Lackey served up meatballs that opposing hitters feasted on. Kyle Hendricks could not stay healthy and the combo of Eddie Butler–Mike Montgomery routinely lasted only 4 innings on average during their starts.
By putting themselves in a hole for most of the first half, the offense had added pressure to every at-bat from the jump. This resulted in pressing, and ultimately frustration. While there are not many things more exciting than a comeback win in baseball, it loses its luster when it happens nearly every game.
In order to address some of these issues, the Cubs’ front office went out and acquired Jose Quintana from the White Sox. Ever since this trade, it has been like the first half was simply a mirage.
The Cubs have put together a 14-3 record since the All-Star break and flipped the script in the NL Central. Going into the break, they sat 5.5 games back of the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. Thanks to their recent string of success, however, they have jumped ahead by 2.5 games at the time of publication.
While the offense and bullpen have certainly made a strong impact during this run, it all begins with the team’s starting five. They have combined to go 11-2 with a 2.53 ERA over the last 15 games. The Cubs have also allowed ZERO first innings runs since the second half began, something Cubs’ fans would have laughed at during May/June.
The resurgence of Jake Arrieta and John Lackey, along with a healthy Kyle Hendricks, have resulted in the Cubs being able to control the game. Add in Lester and Quintana and the Cubs suddenly have one of the most dangerous rotations in the league.
As the Cubs head toward another potential playoff appearance, their four-man rotation looks solid enough to go up against any competition that comes their way. Along with their additions of Justin Wilson and Alex Avila Jr, the next few months should be exciting (and stressful) for fans of the North Siders.