Just two short months away before the 2023 MLB postseason begins. Teams are starting to realize whether buying at the trade deadline was a bright idea, as the postseason bracket is beginning to take shape. One of the tightest playoff races in the big leagues belongs to the NL Central, which includes a three-team battle between the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, and Cincinnati Reds.
The Cubs have turned the tide in the Central since the beginning of July after going 15-11 with an 8-game win streak last month. They are currently sitting 2.5 games back for the division lead and just a half-game back out of the final wild-card spot. So, let's catch up on what's been good for the Northsiders after the deadline and what needs to improve so that the Cubs can secure a spot in the 2023 postseason.
The Return of an MVP
First, let's start with the good, and that comes in the left-handed form of Cody Bellinger. Bellinger has been on a tear since coming off the IL on June 15th. Since the 15th, Bellinger has had a slash line of .374/.412/.598. Bellinger has also hit ten home runs with 36 RBIs in that time frame. The Cubs centerfielder/first-baseman is coming off a strong month of July after being named the NL Player of the Month. Look for "Beli" to continue leading this Cub's offense, as he has been the spark the Cubs have needed to make a run for the postseason. Also, look for the Cubs to offer Belliinger a contract extension after the conclusion of this season, but that's a story for another time.
A Cubs Reunion
Staying on the offense, the Cubs acquired infielder Jeimer Candelrio via trade from the Washington Nationals. Canderlrio made his major league debut with the Cubs in 2016 and has fit right back where he started. The Cubs needed an upgrade in the lineup in a big way after Trey Mancini couldn't get it going offensively. Mainci only hit for a .234AVG and had a -1.3WAR in his short stint with Chicago. Now Canderliro's stint in the windy city has been much more productive. Only playing in nine games, the "Candy Man" has had a slash line of .485/.541/.727; he has also been an impact defensively as he has split time at third base and first base (first base being a place Mainci manned). Now, yes, that's only nine games, and anything can happen in the last couple of months of the season, but Canderlrio was also having a solid year in Washington as he was hitting .258 with a very nice OBP at .342. Canderliro also hit 16 home runs with his former team, three away (he is now two out) from tying his season record at 19. The acquisition of Canderlio has worked out so far for the Cubs; the question is, can he continue to help elevate this Cub's offense?
With all the good, there has been some not-so-good, or at least some inconsistent, performance that will need to improve, including Marcus Stroman. Stroman started the season off hot and put himself in early discussions of being the NL Cy Young Award winner. However, Stroman hit the 15-day IL with hip inflammation after having a very rough month of pitching in July. In July, Stroman started six games, had a record of 1-3, with a 9.11ERA, and had a 4.47FIP. Once Stroman returns to the rotation, that features Justin Steele (who is 2nd in the league in ERA at 2.68, tied for 1st in pitcher wins with 13), Jamseon Tailion (who has had an enormous bounce back ever since the all-star break), and Kyle Hendricks (as he is looking nearly like his 2016 self). He will need to match, or at least come close to, how he performed before July if the Cubs want to secure a spot in the postseason.
Many other positives and negatives could be discussed, but these three points could have the most impact on the rest of the season for the Cubs. Bellinger needs to keep his MVP-caliber bat going, Canderlio will have to continue to spark the Cub's offense, and Stroman has to give the Cubs some solid innings when he returns if the Cubs want to continue making a run to the postseason. The Cubs have an off day today and will travel over the northern border to face a tough Blue Jays Team Friday-Sunday. The next time the Cubs will face a team that's over .500 after the Blue Jays will be the NL Central-leading Brewers, which will be at Wrigley and could significantly affect how the Cubs get into the playoffs.