Cubs season to be canceled at trade deadline if no dramatic changes

CHICAGO — This Cubs season wasn’t supposed to end before “Succession.” Of course, there are still 110 episodes left for the 2023 Cubs. This isn’t “The End,” as it is for HBO’s masterpiece with its Sunday night series finale. It’s more like an underperforming team, the crown jewel of an empire controlled by a billionaire family, that seems close to being cancelled.

The Cubs woke up on the Sunday morning of Memorial Day weekend, a traditional marker in the baseball industry, with the lowest winning percentage of the 15 National League teams. Palace intrigue is becoming history as David Ross’s coaching staff tries to get more out of the roster and Jed Hoyer’s front office contemplates a trade deadline. Being so irrelevant so early in the season won’t do well for the entertainment divisions overseen by Ricketts’ ownership group and president of business operations Crane Kenney.

Marcus Stroman, who may opt out of his contract after this season, said the athleticKen Rosenthal doesn’t want to be traded, even though he understands how the business works. Drew Smyly is more than halfway away from the 110 innings pitched that will allow him to use the opt-out clause of his contract. Kyle Hendricks, who recently returned to the rotation after a nearly 11-month absence, is another starter with an uncertain future, as the club has a $16 million option for next year.

Cody Bellinger, the Gold Glove center fielder who injured his left knee while wall-jumping on May 15, hasn’t started running yet, so it’s unclear where the Cubs will be in the divisional race by the time he is. ready to return. Maybe Hoyer’s group will consider more innovative ideas this summer, like the Hayden Wesneski-for-Scott Effross trade from last year with the Yankees, because this isn’t working.

“We’re not where we want to be yet,” Ross said. “There is still a lot of potential for improvement in many areas. We had some success from the beginning. We’ve been a bit stuck this past month. We haven’t really gotten into any kind of roll.”

David Ross makes a pitching change in the fifth inning. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

It all has to be evaluated in the context of a multi-year rebuild and preseason projections that call for the Cubs to win around 77 games. But guaranteeing more than $300 million to free agents indicated that the business and baseball sides of the organization wanted to put a competitive product on the field. Waves of young talent weren’t supposed to be that far off, either, given progressive initiatives in pitching development and recent investments in the farm system. A good start to the season raised expectations.

Scattered boos are heard from the crowd at Wrigley Field, where the Reds completed a three-game sweep with an 8-5 victory Sunday. The Reds went no-hitter into the eighth inning Friday afternoon and outscored the Cubs 25-10 during the series that was supposed to be a soft spot on their schedule.

“We’re just not clicking right now,” Smyly said. “We’re not putting all three phases of the game together at the same time. It was an ugly weekend for us. The reds came in and beat us up.”

Reminders that the Cubs are only 5 1/2 games out of first place ring hollow. Between April 28 and May 28, the Cubs lost 20 of their 28 games, a downward spiral reminiscent of the phrase Hoyer used last June to describe the team’s collapse: “multi-system failure.”

Stroman (2.95 ERA), Smyly (3.45 ERA) and Justin Steele (2.77 ERA) are having All-Star-caliber seasons, but the Cubs are 0-8 in Jameson Taillon’s starts and Wesneski is back in the rotation. Triple-A Iowa. There are a lot of empty calories in this offense, which needs more clutch hits and three-run home runs. It’s baffling that the Cubs already look like sellers at the trade deadline when Nico Hoerner (.723 OPS), Dansby Swanson (.789 OPS), Ian Happ (.814 OPS) and Seiya Suzuki (.853 OPS) they’re putting up good numbers and Patrick Wisdom and Christopher Morel have combined for 23 home runs.

“We’re not playing up to our caliber,” Wisdom said after driving in all five of his team’s runs in Sunday’s two-homer game against the Reds. “Everyone is aware of that. But it’s baseball, so at any time it can turn in our favor. We still strongly believe in this clubhouse. We believe in each other. That is the key for us to keep going and not lose that faith.”

“It’s just a matter of maintaining that confidence,” Happ said, “continuing to play hard and playing the game the right way. It’s not always going to be bad.”

Over the past 14 games, the Cubs bullpen has an 8.05 ERA. It was a 3-3 game when Smyly came off the mound Sunday afternoon with two outs in the top of the fifth. Jeremiah Estrada, a rookie reliever who has earned more chances, promptly allowed an RBI double to pinch hitter TJ Friedl, then walked the next two batters to force in another run.

Codi Heuer, the strong-throwing reliever acquired from the White Sox in the Craig Kimbrel trade, is eligible to be activated from the disabled list Monday, though he will likely need more time in Triple-A while he continues his post-surgery rehab program. Tommy John. . While it’s tempting to name Heuer the next closer — Ross bluntly said, “We need his arm” — it’s also important to remember that he hasn’t appeared in a major league game since Sept. 29, 2021.

“I think he still feels like it’s a tic and he wants to fix his mechanics,” Ross said. “He wants to feel like he can consistently contribute up here and hit the zone. That has gotten better each time it happens. The material is there, but he wants to be able to control it. That’s probably the next step.”

A change of course is not impossible. Just look at the last three teams to win the National League pennant after a 162-game season. The 2019 Nationals were 19-31 on May 23 (although the Cubs lack the same kind of star power). The 2021 Braves were under .500, in third place and 4 1/2 games out of first during the All-Star break when they acquired Joc Pederson in the first deal of the franchise-altering Hoyer sell-off. The Phillies fired Joe Girardi after a 22-29 start last year, went 0-6 against the Cubs in the second half of the season and still reached Game 6 of the World Series.

It is also possible that the Cubs are what their record says (22-30). Just look at the snapshots of their rebuilding teams through 52 games over the past few years:

2012: 18-34

2013: 22-30

2014: 19-33

2022: 22-30

“It can point to a lot of different areas where we can be better,” Ross said. “The team, as a whole, works very hard and brings competitiveness, their work ethic, their intensity every day. You know there are times when we could have been better out of the bullpen. There are times, lately, where our offense hasn’t really started rolling. We’ve had good starting pitchers, but we definitely have our faults.”

It won’t get any easier when baseball’s greatest team arrives at Wrigley Field for a three-game series beginning Monday at 1:20 pm Tampa Bay ace Shane McClanahan kicks off Tuesday night at Friendly Confines. A 10-game West Coast trip stretches from June 2 through June 11 against the Padres, Angels and Giants, and those teams are never easy, even in the best of times. Nine games against the upgraded Pirates and high-flying Orioles lead up to the London series against the Cardinals (June 24-25), the kind of showcase event likely to draw all the team’s top executives and spotlight all of the team’s top executives. the operation. Cue the theme song “Succession”.

“Obviously, at this level, it comes down to wins and losses,” Taillon said. “We need to start racking up some Ws.”

(Top photo by Patrick Wisdom: David Banks/USA Today)