July 10, 2016 - 11:45 pm
A break from work rarely comes at a bad time. When does anyone complain about going on vacation? Kris Bryant might need some time off this week, but he’s not getting much, and he’s not complaining about it.
But for the Chicago Cubs, it’s not cliche to say the All-Star break arrives at the right time. In the middle of May, the Cubs appeared unstoppable. Two months later, a team led by Bryant and a bunch of other kids appears old and tired.
“The Cubs were so hot early in the season,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said, “and it’s really impossible to maintain that.”
Few things are as good as advertised. Think of online dating profiles, a picture of the newest fast-food sandwich or a used car. Think of the Cubs, who were 25-6 through May 10 and striking fear into bookmakers on a daily basis.
Baseball is a bizarre game played out over a long season. Since May 11, the Cubs are 28-29, a slump that took the betting public by surprise and gave bookmakers a break.
Jake Arrieta has turned from an ace to a joker, allowing 15 earned runs in his past three starts and joking that he may need to go to the minors. Arrieta is 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA, but he was 8-0 with a 1.29 ERA on May 20. He’s no longer a cash machine.
Arrieta’s slide coincided with Dexter Fowler’s absence. Fowler, the center fielder and leadoff hitter, pulled up lame with a strained right hamstring on June 18 and landed on the disabled list. The Cubs went 7-15 in their next 22 games.
“Fowler is the table setter for that team,” Esposito said. “The Fowler injury is really what hurt.”
The back end of the bullpen has broken down, too, sparking speculation the Cubs might consider trading injured catcher/outfielder Kyle Schwarber to the New York Yankees for All-Star closer Andrew Miller.
“We need a break. We need to get guys rested,” manager Joe Maddon said Sunday after Bryant’s RBI single in the eighth inning sent the Cubs to a much-needed 6-5 win at Pittsburgh.
Bryant has been better than advertised. The 24-year-old is too good to get a break. On Tuesday, the Bonanza High School product will start at third base for the National League in the All-Star Game at Petco Park, near where he starred at the University of San Diego.
The No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, Bryant is already a Most Valuable Player candidate halfway through his second season in the majors. He leads the NL with 25 home runs and ranks third with 65 RBIs. His return to San Diego will be celebrated this week.
The All-Star break, which creates the slowest week of the year at Las Vegas sports books, is the right time to assess the best of the baseball season.
David Ortiz is as good as ever, but the Boston slugger says his 20th season will be his last. Ortiz hit his 22nd homer, and the 525th of his career, Sunday and leads the majors in slugging percentage (.682) and doubles (34). At 40, with painful feet, he needs a break, so he’s not participating in the Home Run Derby on Monday.
The Red Sox are two games behind Baltimore in an American League East race headed for a dramatic finish. Even the fourth-place Yankees (44-44) are still in it, so they might be hesitant to deal Miller before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.
Despite leading the majors with 57 wins, San Francisco needs a closer. The Giants and Cubs could be competing for Miller or Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees.
Cleveland, still celebrating an NBA championship, has more to look forward to with the Indians (52-36) on top of the AL Central.
“It’s not a shock to me that Cleveland is on top of that division,” Esposito said. “We knew the Indians had the pitching. We didn’t know if they had the hitting or not.”
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are a fragile team with their ace lefty on the disabled list with a lower back injury.
The best bet in baseball is Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez, who is 25-1 at home in his career.
Despite recent struggles, the Cubs, who stopped their five-game losing streak Sunday and bumped their July record to 2-8, are 53-35 with the second-best winning percentage (.602) in the majors. But they are no longer a lock to win 100 or more games — a proposition that was taken off the South Point board in mid-June because the Cubs were on pace to win 110 and bettors were playing it only one way.
It’s too soon to panic, but World Series futures wagers on the Cubs at 3-1 odds are no longer such hot tickets.
“You would rather have the adversity now than in September,” Esposito said. “People forget the Cubs are still a very, very young team.”
At the break, Bryant is reminding everyone he’s the Cubs’ brightest young star.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow on Twitter: @mattyoumans247