The Rundown: Pivotal Month Could Be Nothingburger for Cubs, Hoerner Trade Speculation Surfaces, Dodgers Hunting Crochet

“And all the pain I put you through, I wish that I could take it all away.” – Hoobastank, The Reason

July is a pivotal month in every MLB season, but it already feels meaningless on the North Side of Chicago. All-Star Game? Who cares. Pennant race? Not in this part of the Midwest. The Cubs are so bad that the trade deadline is nothing to look forward to. The entire organization needs a biblical-level cleansing or exorcism. The high colonic Justin Steele gave his teammates over the weekend was well-deserved, but the message was lost the next day in a listless 7-1 loss to the Brewers.

President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said he may be forced to make some “hard decisions” at the deadline, which sent analysts like Jon Morosi scurrying to generate unwarranted speculation. I suppose Hoyer could trade Nico Hoerner to the Mariners, but that type of move is damning evidence of his failure to build a roster. Even if Cody Bellinger might be an asset, he will be difficult to move because of the nuances of his contract. Nobody wants Chicago’s relievers, Ian Happ and Seiya Suzuki have NTCs, and Jameson Taillon won’t garner much return.

Is it just me, or does this Cubs squad remind others of the John Holland-Salty Saltwell-Bob Kennedy teams of the 1970s? Oh, my kingdom for role players like Champ Summers, Joe Wallis, Mike Vail, and Pete LaCock. Paul Reuschel would also be a welcome addition to Chicago’s sorry bullpen. Donnie Moore or Darold Knowles might provide some hope, too.

This year’s team coasted to a cool 10-15 record against what were considered inferior opponents, which is why Hoyer — and he’s not alone — is sounding the alarm. If you ask me, the best thing for the organization would be to launch the overrated executive and his pal Carter Hawkins into the stratosphere. I could live with this roster sans any deadline deals if I knew somebody else was going to fix it this winter. The Cubs have a Jed Hoyer problem, period.

Offense is down across the league unless you’re Shohei Ohtani, Aaron Judge, or a member of the Orioles. Still, the Cubs seem to be the league’s poster children for soft at-bats. For instance, the Cubs are on a pace to hit about 15% fewer doubles and triples than they did last season, and they’re hitting .228 this year compared to .254 in 2023. Why? Outfielders are playing deeper and more baseballs are finding the warning track instead of the bleachers.

Chicago’s North Side Baseballers are also striking out at a higher rate this season. All MLB hitters should be able to put wood on a bullet, so to speak, but high-velocity breaking stuff poses much bigger problems for batters, particularly those who call Wrigley Field home. The Cubs are near the bottom of the National League in batting average, hits, doubles, runs scored, slugging, OPS, and line drive rate. Hoyer built a pitching staff that gets whiffs with ungodly breaking and offspeed stuff but goes to war with an offense that can’t combat a similar arsenal.

Happ, Hoerner, and Dansby Swanson were the nucleus of what was supposed to be Hoyer’s next contending team. I doubt ol’ Jed will trade any of the three, but if he does, he should immediately raise his hand, admit he failed, and step down from his job as the team’s top personnel executive.

One last thing, and I understand that this is an unpopular opinion, but I believe Chicago’s farm system is a bit overrated. Cade Horton and Ben Brown look like sure things but both are injured. Owen Caissie looks like the real deal, too, but Matt Shaw has some holes that might be exploited in the big leagues. Kevin Alcántara, Brennen Davis, and Alexander Canario show promise, but will they be better hitters than Nelson Velázquez or Christopher Morel?

Hoyer and his staff have failed to develop their hitting prospects at the major league level, especially when it comes to handling breaking stuff, and a bevy of highly-rated players might quickly wash out unless coaching staff or philosophy changes are made. James Triantos is the only player other than Caissie to convince me he will hit at the next level, and he probably won’t be traded with the Cubs sinking so quickly. That said, I will be elated if the younger players prove me wrong.

Cubs News & Notes

Odds & Sods

Hitting is hard.

Central Intelligence

Climbing the Ladder

“Falling down the mountain, end up kissing dirt. Look a little closer, sometimes it wouldn’t hurt.” – INXS, Kiss the Dirt.

The last time the Cubs put together a streak of at least three wins was April 23-26. The team enters July with few moveable contracts and little need to acquire players for a postseason run. Hoyer built this team to win and barring a miracle, that isn’t going to happen. Chicago needs 46 wins in 77 games to reach 85, and that may not be enough to surpass the Cardinals and Brewers.

Next year won’t be any easier. The Pirates may be closer to competing for a division title in 2025 than the Cubs. I’m not sure if Hoyer is capable of building a 90-win team. He was 161-163 (.497) in two seasons with the Padres, and he is 267-304 (.468) with the Cubs since taking over for Theo Epstein. He has also never led a team to the playoffs without Epstein. Chicago has the highest payroll in the NL Central but the worst record.

The Cubs are averaging 4.08 runs per game this season after averaging 5.05 in 2023. They’re also batting a brutal .181 with two outs and runners in scoring position.

I’ll close this section with a positive note. Pete Crow-Armstrong is the only MLB player with at least 15 stolen base attempts not to get caught.

  • Games Played: 85
  • Record: 39-46 (.463), last place in NL Central
  • In One-Run Games: 14-19 (.424)
  • Total Plate Appearances: 3,187
  • Total Strikeouts: 770
  • Strikeout Rate: 23.84%
  • Team Batting Average: .228
  • With Runners in Scoring Position: 149-for-682 (.218)
  • Runs Scored: 347
  • Runs Allowed: 377
  • Pythagorean Record: 39-46
  • Chances of Making the Playoffs: 4.8%, 0.1% chance to win World Series 

How About That!

The Dodgers are circling the wagons in an attempt to add starting pitching, and Garrett Crochet sits atop their wishlist.

Los Angeles may not have the type of top prospects the White Sox would want for Crochet, but they do have nice depth in their system.

The White Sox intend to trade Crochet after failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension. The left-hander has drawn interest from at least 15 teams.

Shortstop Gunnar Henderson of the Orioles is the first player to commit to this year’s Home Run Derby.

MLB changed this year’s Derby rules to make the contest a little less frenetic.

Tanner Scott and Elias Diáz lead a list of 10 buy-low candidates expected to be available at this year’s deadline.

Former Tigers outfielder Craig Monroe has been accused of abusing a 12-year-old girl decades earlier and later prostituting her to his friends after she turned 18.

The Marlins intend to designate shortstop Tim Anderson for assignment.

The Mets won 16 games in June and are now in the thick of the playoff race.

Mike Trout expects to return to the Angels later this month.

Thought Sausage

Would Hoyer consider trading Steele? He’s cheap, three years shy of free agency, and would be a No. 2 in almost any playoff rotation. If Hoyer has to make a “hard decision,” might he consider dealing Steele for top prospects? Let’s hope not, but I have little faith in Chicago’s front office. I’d prefer Hoyer do nothing, leave the organization, and let someone else fix his mess.

Apropos of Nothing

I’m considering a few changes to The Rundown that I plan to implement next week. I think we need a facelift. Adapt or die, right?

Extra Innings

Michael Busch has such a sweet swing.


They Said It

  • “I know how good we can be. I know what it takes. It definitely comes from a good place. It also comes from a place of love, passion, and want-to. I want to win baseball games. That’s what I show up every day to do.” – Steele
  • “I think that when you look at the way we performed this year with a team that’s stronger, it’s less. And is that frustrating to me? Absolutely. And if it’s frustrating to me, I have to imagine it’s frustrating to the fans. So yeah, I think that it is something that I completely empathize with.” – Hoyer
  • “I would also argue I think that casting everything in a negative light based on two months, I think that’s also a mistake. I think that we have a really talented roster and I think we have a ton of young talent on this team. We have a ton of young talent in the minor leagues. There’s a lot of really good things happening.” – Hoyer

Tuesday Walk-Up Song

The Cubs play the Phillies, Angels, Orioles, and Cardinals before the All-Star break, so things won’t be any easier. Maybe the bats will break out against Anaheim, but don’t get your hopes up, they’re 15-9 in their last 24 games. The Phillies have the best pitching staff in the majors and the Orioles are right behind them.

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