1ST HALF, 1ST PLACE

Darvish-led ro­ta­tion has kept 18-12 Cubs atop the NL Cen­tral

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - RUS­SELL DORSEY rdorsey@sun­times.com | @Russ_Dorsey1

It’s of­fi­cially the half­way point of the 2020 sea­son, and the Cubs are well-po­si­tioned head­ing into the sec­ond half. The team sits atop the

Na­tional League Cen­tral with an 1812 record.

Man­ager David Ross has had a tall task in his first year at the helm, not only run­ning a dugout for the first time but hav­ing to deal with the is­sues aris­ing with a global pan­demic.

De­spite the chal­lenges, Ross has his club headed in the right di­rec­tion.

“I think they’ve done a good job,” Ross said. “This is un­prece­dented. This is his­toric, what we’re do­ing, and our guys are do­ing a great job.”

So what have we learned about the Cubs through 30 games?

How well the Cubs have han­dled this year’s health and safety pro­to­cols can’t be un­der­stated. Some of their suc­cess can be traced to the team’s abil­ity to keep play­ers safe on the field.

De­spite two out­breaks in MLB and play­ers around the game test­ing pos­i­tive in the first four weeks of the sea­son, the Cubs re­main the only team in baseball with­out a pos­i­tive COVID-19 test for a player.

While pres­i­dent Theo Ep­stein at­tributes some of that to good for­tune, the team’s com­mit­ment to fol­low­ing health and safety guide­lines has been ap­par­ent.

“Every­body seems to be on board with what’s go­ing on and do­ing what’s best for the group and un­der­stand­ing that these are unique cir­cum­stances,” Ross said. “I’m ex­tremely proud of this group.”

The Cubs have es­tab­lished them­selves as one of the bet­ter teams in the league af­ter jump­ing out to a 13-3 start, their best 16-game start since 1907.

Yu Darvish and the ro­ta­tion helped carry the team. Darvish has looked like one of the best start­ing pitch­ers in the game, go­ing 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA in six starts.

The Cubs have man­aged to stay afloat de­spite an of­fen­sive funk. They have a slash line of .214/.323/.376 in Au­gust, as sev­eral key con­trib­u­tors have yet to get them­selves go­ing.

Dur­ing the re­cent slump, sev­eral play­ers have ad­mit­ted that they care “too much,” and try­ing so hard to per­form has been detri­men­tal to their suc­cess at the plate.

“I think this year, we all want to do good, even though it’s a 60-game sprint,” catcher Will­son Con­tr­eras said. “That’s why this sea­son is way too dif­fi­cult, be­cause we care so much that a lot of times you try to do too much.”

“I think we all do that to some ex­tent,” Ross said. “When you care about the group, the or­ga­ni­za­tion that you’ve come up with, your team­mates, your coach­ing staff, you want to have suc­cess. You want to do well. That’s just part of it.

“So some­times we talk a lit­tle bit about try­ing harder. It’s a real thing, es­pe­cially in this en­vi­ron­ment. When it’s so short, you feel you’re half­way, and you know you haven’t found your rhythm. It’s real.”

A ma­jor pri­or­ity for the Cubs in the sec­ond half will be get­ting their of­fense back on track, and get­ting third base­man Kris Bryant back from the 10-day in­jured list (left ring fin­ger, wrist) will go a long way to­ward mak­ing that hap­pen.

Jose Quin­tana looked sharp in his re­turn from the IL, and his pres­ence adds depth to the Cubs’ ro­ta­tion and bullpen mov­ing for­ward.

With Mon­day’s trade dead­line ap­proach­ing, the Cubs could still make a com­ple­men­tary ad­di­tion to this year’s ros­ter as they po­si­tion them­selves for the post­sea­son.

The Cubs will be on the road for 17 of their re­main­ing 30 games. The sched­ule does pro­vide some op­por­tu­ni­ties, as they have matchups with the Reds, Brew­ers and Pi­rates, who are all below .500.

“SOME­TIMES WE TALK A LIT­TLE BIT ABOUT TRY­ING HARDER. IT’S A REAL THING, ES­PE­CIALLY IN THIS EN­VI­RON­MENT. WHEN IT’S SO SHORT, YOU FEEL YOU’RE HALF­WAY, AND YOU KNOW YOU HAVEN’T FOUND YOUR RHYTHM. IT’S REAL.” DAVID ROSS, Cubs man­ager

PAUL SANCYA/AP

Cubs catcher Will­son Con­tr­eras tags out the Tigers’ Cameron May­bin dur­ing a run­down in the fourth in­ning on Wed­nes­day night at Comer­ica Park.

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