A year after the Cubs opened the season with a sizzling 25-6 record en route to 103 wins and their first World Series title in 108 years, Chicago has been dead average.
Before the Cubs beat the Reds on Tuesday to even their record at 19-19, a 2-4 road trip had dropped them below .500 this late in the season for the first time since 2014. That led a reporter to ask team president Theo Epstein what it would take to send struggling leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber to the minors.
“If anyone wants to sell their Kyle Schwarber stock, we’re buying,” he told ESPN. “Right around this time last year we were 25-6, and I was getting asked nonsarcastic questions about how we were going to manage the push for the greatest record of all time versus resting guys for the playoffs, and I called B.S. on that, and now I’m getting asked if we’re going to send everyday guys down to Triple A … or if we’re going to consider selling. I call B.S. on that, too.”
Epstein also said “there’s no panic,” and Las Vegas oddsmakers and handicappers agree.
“Everything broke right for them last year. Their starting pitching from Game 1 to 162 last year was just awesome,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “Right now, their pitching isn’t dominant, and their offense isn’t going great, either. But usually in baseball, the cream rises after 162 games. I fully expect them to win their division.
“If I was a Cubs fan, I wouldn’t panic in the streets.”
The Cubs’ odds to win the World Series have moved to 6-1 — behind the Nationals (9-2) and Astros (9-2) — after they opened as the 7-2 favorite. Chicago also is now the third choice to win the National League pennant, at plus-275, behind the Nationals and Dodgers, who are both at plus-250. The Cubs are still minus-450 favorites to win the NL Central over the Cardinals, the plus-300 second choice.
“They’ll be fine. They’re going to be there in the end. They’ll probably win their division and play the Dodgers again in the NLCS,” said handicapper Micah Roberts (Sportsline.com). “It’s tough to repeat and keep that momentum going. They’re a great team, though. They definitely can do it.”
The 2000 Yankees were the last team to repeat as World Series champions, and the 1976 Reds, aka The Big Red Machine, were the last NL team to do so.
Chicago is 20th in the majors in batting, with a .239 team average, and is in the middle of the pack in runs.
Kris Bryant, the reigning NL Most Valuable Player from Las Vegas, is the only regular playing up to expectations, with a .299 average, seven homers and 19 RBIs. Schwarber, tabbed to replace Dexter Fowler in the leadoff spot, and cleanup hitter Anthony Rizzo each homered Tuesday but have struggled overall, with Schwarber batting .189 and Rizzo .221.
Jason Heyward is hitting .253, Javier Baez .228, Addison Russell .220 and Ben Zobrist .235.
Jake Arrieta, the 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner, has lost velocity on his fastball and ranks 82nd in the majors in ERA (5.44) and 79th in WHIP (1.46).
“It’s just a little bit of a World Series hangover,” Caesars Palace sports book director Frank Kunovic said of the Cubs’ slow start. “They’re going to get their stuff together. There’s still a ton of baseball left to play.”
Not that oddsmakers would mind if Chicago continues to struggle.
“I love it as a bookmaker because they bet the Cubs every day,” Bogdanovich said.
In keeping with tradition, Kunovic said he’s written twice as many futures tickets on the Cubs as the next closest team, the Indians.
“Up until last year, that was our most profitable bet ever because we never paid off on it,” he said. “Now’s the time to bet the Cubs. The odds are the best they’ve been all year.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-266-6080. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.