After winning their first World Series in 108 years last season, the Chicago Cubs (52-47) have been one of the most disappointing teams in baseball. They started 25-27, 40-40, and were 43-45 at the All-Star break.
It was bad.
But a strange thing has happened over the last week or so: The Cubs have won. In fact, Chicago is 9-2 since the All-Star break and is neck and neck with Milwaukee (53-48) in the NL Central.
So if you thought the Cubs would go the rest of the season without a whimper, well, try again.
“I think the best team in the National League right now, this very minute, (is Chicago),” MLB Network analyst Dan Plesac said on CBS Sports Radio’s Reiter Than You. “They don’t have the best record, (but) look out because the Big Blue Train’s a-coming.”
Milwaukee had Chicago “dead to rights” with a five-and-a-half game lead at the All-Star break.
That lead is gone.
“The Brewers missed their chance to strike, to go out and get a pitcher,” Plesac said. “The Brewers have coughed up the lead, the Cubs have caught them – the Cubs are gone. They’re going to win the division, and I’m not even sure Milwaukee is going to hang on to second. I think the Pirates are a much better team right now.”
Plesac’s top three teams in the NL, in order, are the Cubs, Nationals (59-38), and Dodgers (69-31).
That’s right. Plesac has the Dodgers third in the NL – even though they have the best record in baseall.
“I can’t take the Dodgers seriously without Clayton Kershaw active,” he said. “They’re good, but I don’t think they’re that good. They remind me of the (2015) Cardinals team that won (100) games and got bounced in the first round. Without Kershaw, do you really trust Alex Wood in Game 1 if Kershaw can’t pitch? Do you really trust Rich Hill in Game 2? So listen, they’re a good team. They’re not a great team.”
The Dodgers – or Cubs or Rockies or any number of teams – will likely look to add a starting pitcher before the July 31 trade deadline. Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, and Yu Darvish are among the top pitchers available, but neither is No. 1 on Plesac’s wish list.
No, that would be Justin Verlander.
“I think he has value,” Plesac said. “The last two years, his second halves have been better than the first half.”
In 2015, Verlander went 0-2 with a 5.34 ERA in the first half but 5-6 with a 2.80 ERA in the second. In 2016, meanwhile, he went 8-6 with a 4.07 ERA in the first half but 8-3 with a 1.96 ERA in the second.
“If you’re getting Justin Verlander right now, you’re getting a guy that’s pitched at the highest level,” Plesac said. “That’s what you want to get this guy for. Now listen: the price tag’s high: $28 million the next two years, but if the Tigers can eat a good portion of that, (he’s worth it). To me, he’s the safest bet of all the guys on the market. Better than Archer, better than Darvish. He’s been there, he’s battle-tested, nothing will scare him.”