By Brian Harl
The Chicago Cubs passed the halfway point of the 2022 season last week with little more than a whimper. As of the writing of this article, the Northsiders currently sit tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates for third place in the NL Central, are on pace for just under 100 losses, and are double-digit games back of the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers atop the division. With that being the case, let’s take a look back at the first half and tease out a few stories of interest for the Loveable Losers.
Let’s start with the obvious. Nobody expected the Cubs to compete for the NL pennant this year. So far, that prediction has definitely played out. Only four other teams in MLB have a worse record than the Cubs at this point. That said, looking at the baseline metrics tracked on baseball-reference.com, they mostly fall above average on offense across the board throughout the first half of the season. With the wind taken out of their offensive sails after losing Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo, I feel like performing above league average on that side of the ball is worth noting.
It only takes us a little time looking at the pitching side to realize, “ah - there it is” when we consider why the Cubs have been floundering this year. They are among the bottom five teams in MLB in win-loss percentage, runs allowed, home runs allowed, and FIP and sit below league average in many other pitching categories. Now, this is not totally surprising seeing that there have been multiple times this season where 80 percent of their initial starting rotation has been unavailable or injured. During a 10-game losing streak in June (one of three 10-game skids the team has encountered so far this year), first baseman Frank Schwindel actually had as many pitching appearances (two) as Kyle Hendricks, Wade Miley, Drew Smyly, and Marcus Stroman. Yikes.
As an eternal Cubs optimist, perhaps I can still finish up with a positive story or two.
Nico Hoerner and Christopher Morel have been two of the most impressive parts of the 2022 Cubs team so far. Their play, along with offensive leadership from All-Star catcher Willson Contreras (the Cubs' first-half MVP), has been at the forefront of the team's sporadic attempts at being competitive this year. Entering Friday, Hoerner has been putting up a very respectable .301 batting average, a 2.6 WAR - which includes a 1.4 dWAR which is good enough for sixth in MLB - and 10 outs above average, fourth overall in MLB and top of all shortstops. If you ask me, he has now passed both the eye and statistic tests at the MLB level, and I look forward to watching him as a consistent contributor to the team as it thrashes around the seas of transition.
Christopher Morel was brought up from AA to the big league level in May and hasn’t looked back since. He has shown versatility by playing four different positions so far, and while his plate production has slowed since his monstrous start, it can still be quite electric, which is needed on a team trying to find a spark. With Contreras expected to be traded by the deadline, Morel and Hoerner will have to continue to step up to give Cubs fans something to cheer about.
Lastly, while pitching has been subpar, it is heartening to see glimmers of hope from a few homegrown arms, which isn’t typically a strength of the Cubs. Keegan Thompson is one that should draw attention as he has done a noble job performing earlier and more often than he probably expected amidst the many downs of the pitching staff so far this season. He is now 7-3 with an impressive 3.16 ERA. Justin Steele is also worth watching for the remainder of the season, as his ability to miss barrels is quite promising and a sight to see. If up-and-coming prospect Caleb Kilian can pin down his control and continue to show big-league stuff, and if Adbert Alzolay can eventually return with the electricity he has shown in previous years, the Cubs may have an in-house pitching foundation worth applauding.
All that said, it is no doubt that this Cubs season has already shaped up to be one best described by shouting loudly from the Wrigley bleachers the tried and true Cubs fan adage of “wait ‘til next year!”
Brian Harl is a freelance baseball writer and an editor for the IBWAA Here’s The Pitch Newsletter. He is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan and enjoys baseball history and trivia. He is actively involved in IBWAA and SABR groups. You can find him on Twitter at @cubs_corner.