Forecasting how each player on the Cubs roster will perform after the All-Star break, relative to their first-half performances.
After losing a draining, seven-game World Series to the Cubs last year, the Indians got off to a slow start in 2017 and had everyone scratching their heads.
Adding slugger Edwin Encarnacion to an already potent lineup was supposed to ensure a fast lane to the division title, yet they were only 31-31 in mid-June.
Fortunately the Indians were playing in the American League Central, and only had to pass the Twins, who clearly were playing over their heads. Cleveland eventually got a hot streak going, and went into the All-Star break at 47-40 with a 2 ½ game lead.
So there is hope for the Cubs, who also went through a draining seven-game World Series and got off to a slow start from which they have yet to recover. The oft-heard narrative is they’re simply suffering from a World Series hangover, but if that’s the case, the Indians should be using the same excuse.
"I don’t really buy into that," Cleveland starter Corey Kluber said. "There was never any talk amongst us about a hangover or anything like that. I can’t speak for (the Cubs), but for our ballclub, I think it’s just a matter of we didn’t play that consistently early on. We’ve started to turn it around lately, and I don’t think that last season necessarily has a bearing on that."
Indians reliever Andrew Miller concurred, saying everyone had time to recharge their batteries.
"Excuses don’t do you any good," Miller said. "I had a blast playing last year, and I think I still had plenty of time off. I feel like we can be a better team than we’ve been in the first half.
"I can’t speak to the Cubs. I haven’t watched that many of their games. They aren’t having the year they expected, but I’d say both of us are fortunate it’s a 162-game season and we have a long way to go. I feel we have better baseball ahead of us, personally."
To their credit, the Cubs haven’t made excuses, though they’ve had their share of nagging injuries.
Pitching coach Chris Bosio pointed out they lost two starters to injuries in Kyle Hendricks and Brett Anderson, that Jake Arrieta has pitched through a thumb problem and that the defense hasn’t helped the pitchers as much as it did in 2016.
The fatigue issue is always going to be brought up after a team plays into late October or early November, as Wade Davis knows well.
Davis played in back-to-back World Series with the Royals, and despite the ’14 Series going to seven games against the Giants, Kansas City made it back and beat the Mets in ’15.
Still, Davis admitted the fatigue from two long postseasons may have affected him and the Royals in 2016.
"It wasn’t just the one year (of extended postseasons), it was back-to-back years," Davis said. "I think so, but if it did I think it was because I let it happen, not because Iit should (have happened). I think there’s definitely like a sense of ‘Yeah, I can feel this feeling, but I need to go ahead to go ahead and move on.’
Is it more mental than physical?
"I don’t know," he said. "I don’t know the science behind that. There might be some (mental affect). I’m not sure. I mean, you get tired any year if you’re playing baseball all year. That’s kind of part of it."
No matter how fatigued they were during the first three months, every Cub but Davis, Maddon and the coaches got a nice, four-day rest this All-Star week. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise after Cubs’ fans failed to vote anyone onto the NL roster, knowing no one really deserved the honor.
Starting Friday in Baltimore they’ll get a chance to turn the odometer back to zero and pretend they gave the Brewers a nice head start in the Central Division race, like the popular "Freeze" character does when racing fans in Atlanta.
A look at who the Cubs might make a deal with ahead of the trade deadline.
The one certainty is no one in baseball is underestimating the Cubs, whether they’re under .500 or not.
"I’m not following them that much, but they’re experienced, they’ve been there already, and they have Joe Maddon," Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen said. "Joe is a great manager, so they’re going to be good. I don’t think they’re going to fall off. They have Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta, and all those guys know how to win, they’ve been there before. We’ll see."
Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu is among those who believe the Cubs are sleeping giants, ready to awaken and do their thing.
"I know the Cubs haven’t played the way they want to, but I know they’re going to be there late in the season," LeMahieu said. "I think the whole league knows they’re going to be there. They’ve got too much talent."
Strangely, someone then asked LeMahieu if the Cubs were the team to beat in the National League.
"Yeah, they’re World Series champs," he replied.
Well, that’s pushing it a bit.
The Dodgers (61-29) are the team to beat right now, and the Nationals (52-36) and Diamondbacks (53-36) aren’t far behind. The Cubs need to reprove themselves before anyone starts calling them the favorites, though they’re certainly capable of dominating if everyone starts to gel at the same time.
All they need is a spark, whether it’s from someone inside the clubhouse or via a trade for another starter.
Rays starter Chris Archer, who would be a perfect addition, said Maddon will find a way to get things going. He recalled watching a Bucs-Seahawks game last winter in Tampa when he got a call from his former Rays manager inviting him into his suite.
"That’s just the type of guy he is," Archer said. "He wants to share his blessings with everybody, and I’m sure that’s why he’s a little down that only Wade is here.
"But their club is starting to turn it around. They’re starting to look good, outside of (Sunday’s 14-3 loss to the Pirates). The team I faced a (week) ago was a good team, and I think Joe is going to have them back on track here soon."