The Cubs are destroying the hell out of opposing pitchers right now

The Cubs are destroying the hell out of opposing pitchers right now

Let's go live to video of opposing pitchers trying to get Cubs hitters out in the second half:

Following Wednesday's 8-2 thrashing of the Atlanta Braves, the Cubs' offensive numbers through their six-game winning streak are eye-popping:

AVG: .315
OBP: .370
SLG: .609
OPS: .979
R/GM: 7.33
HR: 16
XBH: 33
H: 71
AVG w/RISP: .339
Run differential: +27

The average with runners in scoring position is the big one as the Cubs have collected 21 hits in 62 at-bats in such situations in the second half.

That was the biggest weakness for the Cubs offense as they spent part of the first half ranking dead last in baseball hitting with runners in scoring position.

For the first five games of the second half, it's been Willson Contreras keying the offensive charge. But with "Willy" on the bench Wednesday and Kris Bryant forced to leave in the first inning with an injured finger, it was Javy Baez, Addison Russell and Mike Montgomery — yes, really — driving the offense.

The trio combined for seven hits, six RBI, three runs, three doubles and two homers.

Montgomery's first career homer was an absolute blast:

That shot was 99.9 mph exit velocity and flew 393 feet. It also ensured the Cubs have truly won the trade with the Seattle Mariners from 364 days ago:

Baez has been a monster of late, too, with four straight multi-hit efforts to raise his season average 23 points to .275 with a .797 OPS. He has 10 hits in his last 15 at-bats, including a pair of doubles and two homers.

Baez's three-run blast in the eighth really put it out of reach for the Cubs Wednesday:

In the second half alone, Contreras, Russell and Baez have combined to raise their collective OPS 141 points:

This is more like it.

The Cubs went into this season thinking they had a strong, young offensive nucleus — a group of guys that would hammer the opposition on a nightly basis with an American League-style lineup.

It hasn't played out that way, but maybe things are starting to shift. Contreras, Russell and Baez are huge keys for the rest of the season. We know Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are gonna hit, Kyle Schwarber (.887 OPS in July) also seems to be a different guy at the plate since making his return from Triple-A Iowa.

Now if only Ben Zobrist can truly get going atop the order...

Heading to Triple-A Iowa, Dillon Maples could be X-factor for Cubs

Heading to Triple-A Iowa, Dillon Maples could be X-factor for Cubs

Whether or not the Cubs add a high-octane reliever before the July 31 trade deadline, Dillon Maples is lurking as an X-factor in the second half for the defending World Series champs.

The Cubs are planning to promote Maples to Triple-A Iowa, sources said Monday, after the right-hander blew away hitters at Double-A Tennessee, pitching backwards and unleashing a wipeout slider to notch 28 strikeouts in 13.2 innings.  

Maples had never pitched above the A-ball level until this season, putting up a 5.33 career ERA and staying far off the radar after getting a $2.5 million bonus as a 14th-round pick in the 2011 draft, the last one overseen by former general manager Jim Hendry.

That’s when chairman Tom Ricketts wisely authorized a spending spree before a new collective bargaining agreement would radically change the spending limits on amateur talent. Ricketts fired Hendry in a secret meeting that summer, but asked him to stay on and close a draft class headlined by Javier Baez.

Maples – Gatorade’s North Carolina high school player of the year – had options as a punter/kicker with a football scholarship to the University of North Carolina. While that athleticism hasn’t translated into the frontline starter the Cubs once envisioned – Maples has dealt with injuries and thrown only 182.1 innings across the last five seasons combined – something clicked out of the bullpen this year.

The Cubs see Maples as having an 80 slider on the 20-80 scouting scale and encouraged him to use that as his primary weapon, understanding there will still be a learning curve in the Pacific Coast League.

Maples also gave up 11 hits and 11 walks in those 13.2 innings with the Smokies after a strong showing at advanced Class-A Myrtle Beach (4-0, 2.01 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 31.1 innings).

That’s probably not where Maples envisioned beginning his age-25 season. And Joe Maddon’s bullpen – with All-Star closer Wade Davis and setup guys Carl Edwards Jr., Koji Uehara and Pedro Strop – has been a real strength for a 46-45 team. But all these years later, Maples will soon be one phone call away from Wrigley Field.

9 intriguing Cubs stats from the first half of 2017

9 intriguing Cubs stats from the first half of 2017

While you’re waiting for the second half to begin (hoping for an improvement over the disappointing start to the season), why not take a moment to appreciate some of the interesting Cubs oddities and achievements over the first 88 games.

Willson Contreras

Contreras hit a leadoff HR in his first career start at leadoff on June 26th. He was the first Cub to hit a leadoff HR in first career start at leadoff since…Anthony Rizzo did it 13 days earlier.

Rizzo was the first Cub to do it since Dee Fondy on June 12, 1951.

Anthony Rizzo

He’s only player in Cubs history with 20 HR and at least 10 more BB (54) than K (43) before the All-Star break (since the All-Star Game started in 1933).

Rizzo is also the: first Cubs leadoff man to get on base to lead off a game in seven straight games since Richie Ashburn June 28-July 3, 1960 (happened to be Rizzo’s first seven career leadoff starts).

Javier Báez

On May 18th, Báez cracked his 30th career home run…it was also his third career grand slam. Báez is the first Cub with 3 grand slams within his first 30 career home runs since Kris Bryant, whose 30th HR (which came in 2016) also was a grand slam. Prior to Bryant & Báez, the only other Cub with three grand slams within first 30 career HR was Dom Dallessandro, whose fifth, seventh and ninth home runs were of the four-run variety (1941-42).

John Lackey

Despite his struggles, he’s the only Cubs pitcher age 38 or older with multiple 10+ strikeout games in a season. 

In fact, he has two of the three 10+ K games by a pitcher 38 or older in Cubs history. Greg Maddux struck out 10 at age 39 in 2005.

Jake Arrieta

While Arrieta has struggled on the mound this season, he has managed to do a few things at the plate (actually, he has a .405 OPS, but still…).

Arrieta is the first Major League pitcher to hit at least one triple in four consecutive seasons since Ray Sadecki (1963-66)

Arrieta is the first Cubs pitcher with at least one triple and one HR in three straight seasons since Bill Hutchinson (1889-92) & Pat Luby (1890-92)

Ian Happ & Kyle Schwarber

The record for most HR by a Cubs player in his first 50 career MLB games is 13 – by two players – Ian Happ & Kyle Schwarber.

Happ hit #13 in Game #50 – as the first of back-to-back HR…with Kyle Schwarber.