Cubs: Jed Hoyer’s assessment of the first half and next steps for his team
CINCINNATI — Should the Cubs buy or sell at the trade deadline later this month?
Fans can vacillate back and forth with each win or loss but Jed Hoyer doesn’t have that same luxury.
The fate of the franchise is in his hands as he picks a path for the team this summer.
So what goes through Hoyer’s mind right now as he watches each Cubs game?
For starters, he tries to keep everything in perspective and doesn’t get too caught up in riding the day-to-day roller coaster.
The Cubs began the season with an 11-15 record in April but turned it on with a brilliant May (19-8).
The Cubs knew they were going to have a brutal schedule in June and started the month out with a 12-10 record before dropping the final 6 games. They began July in a similar fashion with a 2-1 loss to the Reds in Cincinnati Friday.
That skid has left Hoyer’s team 7.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the division entering play Saturday.
“It was a hard month,” he said. “We knew it was gonna be a slog and now we’ve got a hole and we gotta dig our way out of it.”
During their successful stretch in May and early June, the Cubs leaned heavily on a bullpen that was pitching lights out. But that unit started to show some cracks in the foundation late in the month and Hoyer knows the other areas of the team need to step up and fill the gap.
“Those 50-50 games in the 7th and 8th innings — we won all of them because we didn’t give up any runs in the bullpen,” Hoyer said. “That’s not reality. You’re gonna give up runs. Our bullpen is still excellent.
“You can’t rely on never giving up runs late in the game as a recipe to win.”
The MLB schedule-makers didn’t do the Cubs any favors in June, either.
They had two separate trips to the West Coast and spent almost the entire month playing against teams that are currently vying for a postseason spot.
Meanwhile, the Brewers played 17 games in June against the three worst teams in the NL (Diamondbacks, Rockies, Pirates) and went 14-3 in those games.
“When you looked at our schedule and candidly, you looked at Milwaukee’s schedule, you had a feeling that it may be a tough month,” Hoyer said. “We haven’t played well against [the Brewers]. Give them credit — they’ve beaten us all year.
“But I think you have to take the big picture and look at it that way. You can’t go up and down and buy or sell with every game or every 2 games. That’s not the way to make good decisions. Yes, obviously, there’s emotions involved and when you lose a close game late or give up an early lead like [Wednesday], you’re frustrated.
“But you have to take a step back and assess things as it relates to the larger picture.”
Now the strength of schedule starts to turn.
The Cubs play 14 of their 26 July games at home and have the extended layoff of the All-Star Break. Plus, the difficulty of opponents drops off significantly from last month as the Cubs don’t play a team with a winning record in July until the final two days (Nationals).
As the calendar flipped to July and Hoyer evaluates the direction of this team, the offense is one area he’s spending a lot of time dissecting.
The Cubs posted the lowest batting average in baseball in June (.188) and struck out more than any other team. Only the Cardinals (86) scored fewer runs than the Cubs (97) over the course of the month.
The offense was unable to change the narrative to begin July, as the Cubs scored 1 run against the Reds pitching staff Friday evening.
“Our offense had a really bad month,” he said. “We can’t expect to never give up runs. We have to be able to score late in games and that — to me — is probably the thing that stands out the most. We didn’t score.”
Hoyer also pointed to the Cubs’ lack of patience in June (.264 OBP) but was encouraged by the way the lineup ended the month (22 walks during the 3-game series in Milwaukee).
“Of all the things I’m frustrated with over the course of the month is the lack of walks,” Hoyer said. “Probably guys are trying to swing their way out of slumps a little bit and I think that got us in some trouble.
“I like the fact that at the end, we started drawing some walks. We have to continue to do that. We’re probably not gonna be a very high batting average team. If we’re still gonna be a high on-base team, we have to be able to work counts and draw walks and we didn’t do that very well in June at all.”
With all this in mind, when will Hoyer make his decision on whether to buy or sell at the trade deadline?
“The honest answer to that is July 30,” he said. “We have to prepare and we have to have internal discussions a lot. It doesn’t mean you can’t make a decision on either side of the ledger before that, but you do have all that time in some ways.
“But in terms of preparation, internally we have to make sure we’re prepared to do both. To me, it’s just: make the best decisions for the organization. We have until the 30th. Obviously things can happen before then.”
In other words — there’s still a lot of time left to evaluate this team and where it fits into the National League playoff race.