Cubs Notebook: Downturn Saltens Up Previously Sweet Road Trip

David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports Chicago Cubs shortstop Arismendy Alcantara, one of the club's notable prospects, was brought up into major league action this week for the first time against the Cincinnati Reds.

David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Cubs shortstop Arismendy Alcantara, one of the club’s notable prospects, was brought up into major league action this week for the first time against the Cincinnati Reds.

WARR baseball writer Kevin Luchansky writes about the Cubs and the White Sox weekly for

Check out Kevin’s daily baseball betting picks on NorthSideWire.

Upon the start of its latest road trip, this Chicago Cubs team had me feeling that it could carry a little momentum from its road sweep of the Boston Red Sox and its series opener victory in Washington following that. Maybe they could survive this road trip and head into the break with some respectability. Damn, did I think wrong.

Losers of six straight as of this writing, the Cubs have really struggled to find any sort of offensive spark as of late. Yes, the pitching has been spotty too, too, but not quite to the extent as the hitting. After scoring seven runs in the series opener against the Nationals, the Cubs managed to drop just one more over the next two games. Against Cincinnati earlier this week it was nearly as bad through the first four games of the five-game set, the team looked respectable in a 6-5 loss Tuesday, the second half of a doubleheader that day, that the Cubs led 5-0 at one point. Thursday the team ended their travels with a 6-5 win in 12 innings that saw them overcome a 3-0 deficit the Reds provided in the game’s opening inning.

Before you try to counter, no, having Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel still with the club wouldn’t have made much of a difference. I’ve seen some finger pointing from columnists towards the Cubs front office staff as having “lost the trade,” but that’s just silly talk.

The trade’s grade can only be truly handed out when Addison Russell and Billy McKinney have had their chances at the major league level. Or, in the worst case scenario, when they’ve played enough seasons at the minor league level without reaching the majors and can then be considered “busts.” It’s important to remember Billy Beane and the Athletics made this trade because they’re in “go for it” mode and leading the American League in record, exactly on the opposite end of the spectrum from the last place Cubs. Also Theo Epstein and Co. made this trade because they’re (still) rebuilding from the ground up. If such a thing is possible, I think both teams “won” the trade, but it is still early.

Russell Reasonably Tempting

The Cubs will play one more series before an all-star break that should allow them to begin shopping any of the team’s other trade-able pieces. One rumor that is flying around is reliever James Russell could be the next one to say goodbye to the Friendly Confines. The move that hypothetically sends Russell to a contender makes a lot of sense, actually. The return from a team desperate for bullpen help and stuck in the middle of a pennant race may be willing to part with more than they normally would, and Russell’s numbers this season help make the case.

ERA+, which is essentially ERA with additional park factors added in, is a stat that helps you measure a pitchers performance against the league average. For this stat, a score of 100 means you’ve pitched to exactly the league average for that season. The stats are updated in real time, so an ERA+ of 100 in 2013 isn’t the same as the 100 in 2014, and so on. That said, Russell has his greatest ERA+ of his career, with a 137 mark this year. For a little reference, Russell’s career average is a 105, and the career averages of two notoriously effective closers of recent times– Trevor Hoffman and John Franco — are 141 and 138, respectively.

That isn’t the only area where Russell is crushing his previous numbers and career averages, as he is also posting career bests in hits per nine innings (h9), strikeouts per nine innings (k/9), and a shiny 2.84 earned run average.

Coghlan Getting Good Cuts

I mentioned earlier how abysmally the offense performed over the last week, but a tip of the hat to Chris Coghlan and the mighty numbers he’s produced over the last week or so. The 29-year-old lefty bat, who makes just $2oo,ooo this season, has two home runs, eight runs scored, a stolen base and a .833 slugging percentage in his last 27 at-bats — pretty good power numbers for a guy whose career high in home runs is nine and came back in his first major league season in 2009 with the Marlins. It certainly would be nice to see Justin Ruggiano and Coghlan both stay warm and pick up the slack the rest of the under-performing outfield has left behind.

Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio; follow Kevin on Twitter @kpLUCH

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