If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

If Nationals are playoff preview, what should Cubs do at trade deadline?

WASHINGTON – Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio has perspective after sitting through the darkest days of the rebuild, the sign-and-flip cycles and moments like “Men Playing Against Boys,” the way ex-manager Dale Sveum once sized up the team during a 2012 series against the Washington Nationals.

Bosio trusted future “World’s Greatest Leader” Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and the rest of a growing front office would deliver talent during the 101-loss season that led to the Kris Bryant No. 2 overall draft pick and the Ryan Dempster/Kyle Hendricks buzzer-beater deal at the trade deadline.   

So while Bosio is a hardened realist who understands the banged-up Cubs haven’t played up to their potential, he also knows these are first-division problems. 

“If Theo and Jed can find a way to make our team better, you can bet they’re going to do it,” Bosio said. “But at the same time, they’re not going to sacrifice our future. They know that the team (here has) a lot of holdovers from the World Series club. There’s a lot of holdovers from the team that went to the National League (Championship Series in 2015). We’ve been through that. And when it comes crunch time, we produce.”

With that in mind, a look at where things stand five weeks out from the July 31 trade deadline as the defending champs begin a potential playoff preview on Monday at Nationals Park:

• If Max Scherzer flirts with another no-hitter or a 20-strikeout game on Tuesday, the questions will start all over again about adding a hitter. Javier Baez even let this slip over the weekend after a win over the Miami Marlins: “Pretty much not having a leadoff guy right now is kind of tough.” But shipping Kyle Schwarber to Triple-A Iowa is not necessarily the start of an offensive overhaul.

“Our focus is going to be on pitching,” Hoyer said. “I would never say never to something like that, because I don’t know what’s going to present itself as we get closer to the deadline. I will say this: When it comes to our offense, I really do see it as these are our guys. We’re as deep with position players as any team in baseball. These guys have performed exceptionally well. Most of these guys have won 200 games over the last two years.

“We believe in them for a reason. We don’t have rings on our fingers without all these guys.”

• With Jake Arrieta and John Lackey on the verge of becoming free agents, the Cubs feel like they should start working on their winter plans this summer and begin remodeling the rotation. The 38-37 record makes you wonder how ultra-aggressive the front office will be to win a bidding war for a frontline starter, but the Cubs are only 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, a first-place team for now that was supposed to be rebuilding this year.   

But the Cleveland Indians got to the 10th inning of a World Series Game 7 with Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Ryan Merritt making nine playoff starts combined, because they had Corey Kluber and a dynamic bullpen.

The primary focus will have to be on the rotation, but adding another high-leverage reliever to work in front of lights-out closer Wade Davis would shorten games and help preserve Carl Edwards Jr. (170 pounds) and Koji Uehara (42 years old).   

“At some point, you’re going to assess your own team,” Hoyer said. “Sometimes strengthening a strength can work. You see teams that sometimes have a good offense – and add another good hitter – and all of a sudden we’re going to beat you in a different way.”

• Without making this summer’s blockbuster deal for a closer – the way the Cubs landed Aroldis Chapman – Washington risks wasting Bryce Harper’s second-to-last season before free agency and another year of Scherzer’s $210 million megadeal.

Six different Nationals have saved games for a 45-30 team and the bullpen ranks near the bottom of the majors with a 4.88 ERA. Can’t blame that on Dusty Baker, who has notched more than 1,800 wins as a manager and guided four different franchises to the playoffs.

But it won’t be easy to find a quick fix for the Washington bullpen or Cubs rotation. The American League opened for business on Monday with only three of its 15 teams more than three games under .500, and one being the White Sox, who are (obviously) not seen as a realistic trade partner for the Cubs.

“The American League is incredibly jumbled up,” Hoyer said. “That’s why a lot of deals don’t happen this time of year, because people are still sorting it out. The next five weeks of baseball will determine a lot of that. Some of those teams that are in the race now will fall back.

“There’s a lack of teams right now that have a true sense of sellers. I think there are a lot of teams right now that are close enough that they’re not going to admit it that they’re going to be sellers. That five weeks will determine a lot about who ends up on which side of the fence.”

Javy Baez is all kinds of naked in the new ESPN Body Issue

Javy Baez is all kinds of naked in the new ESPN Body Issue

Another year, another Cub sending nudes to ESPN.

Javy Baez is following in Jake Arrieta's footsteps, joining ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2017:

Beyond the racy photos, Baez gets personal in the interview for the magazine, talking about his sister, Noely, who died at the age of 21 in 2015.

The co-NLCS MVP also goes behind his lightning-quick tags, how he actually had problems walking as a baby and Joe Maddon's message to him before the 2016 season.

Jake Arrieta explains why he thinks he's been off this season

Jake Arrieta explains why he thinks he's been off this season

Jake Arrieta is only 19 months removed from winning the National League Cy Young Award when he posted an absolutely ridiculous 0.75 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in 15 starts after the All-Star Break in 2015.

It was the best stretch baseball has ever seen in its history.

But since then, he's posted a 3.53 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in 45 starts, including marks of 4.64 and 1.33 so far this season.

So what's wrong with the 31-year-old right-hander?

That's a question Arrieta and the Cubs have been trying to figure out for over a year (he also sported a 4.44 ERA in the final 16 starts of 2016).

[RELATED - Chris Bosio breaks down what's going on with Jake Arrieta]

A lot of people were quick to point out Arrieta's increased workload in 2015 (he threw 248.2 innings, by far the highest total of his career), but he and the Cubs mostly brushed aside that notion. 

But after 219.2 more innings last year (including the postseason), Arrieta conceded that the workload has been a factor in a weekend chat with FOXSports' Ken Rosenthal:

"As much as we don't want to say that it carries over from season to season, throwing almost 500 innings over the past two years, I think it did have some effect," Arrieta said. "I'm not hurt or injured. It's just that I think my body has reacted accordingly and it's taken a little bit longer to regain the form that I would like to be in."

Arrieta found a way to show up when the Cubs needed him the most last year, winning two World Series games in Cleveland and posting a 3.63 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in four postseason starts, striking out 25 batters in 22.1 October/November innings.

Arrieta has also been dealing with a cut on his pitching hand that has sapped some of the feel on his thumb in the first two-plus months of the season.

Velocity has been a big point of contention for those watching and evaluating Arrieta this season, as he's down about 2 mph across the board, including a dip from 93.6 mph on his fastball last year to 91.8 mph in 2017.

Arrieta has maintained all year his velocity dip is not an issue because he still boasts several plus-plus pitches in his repoertoire. What does matter is his command and if he's actually throwing the ball where he wants to.

Arreita also shared with Rosenthal that he's been going through a tough time away from the baseball field. His mother-in-law, Debbie, just endured a brain operation two weeks ago to treat an aneurysm, the second such surgery she's had in the last half-year.

Though the soon-to-be free agent wouldn't acknowledge the difficult family matter carried over into his performance between the lines, maintaining he has had no problem focusing on the game and his job.