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What’s next for the Chicago Cubs after their exit from London? Blister watch, Kyle Schwarber and the quest for .500.

The Chicago Cubs’ Brexit went smoothly after splitting their two-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals in London.

The team arrived back in Chicago late Sunday night, then had Monday off to try and shake the jet lag as they prepared for Tuesday’s start of a six-game homestand against the Philadelphia Phillies and Cleveland Guardians.

The Athletic called the London Series a “smashing success,” though it was hard to understand how anyone came to that conclusion from watching the games on Fox Sports and ESPN.

Both the Cubs and Cardinals were sub-.500 teams who looked the part. Neither game was particularly competitive, and the fielding was lackluster. ESPN botched the names of Cubs players and never corrected themselves. An ESPN pregame show even mispronounced the name of Bruce Sutter, a Hall of Famer who played for both teams during his career.

There also was no instant classic moment, like Tim Anderson depositing a walk-off home run into a cornfield in the 2021 Field of Dreams game in Iowa. Even the backdrop, which looked like any generic sports stadium built in North America in the last two decades, was nothing special.

Either way, the long-awaited trip that was four years in the making finally ended, and now it’s time for the Cubs to re-focus on the task at hand — winning the National League Central and returning to the playoffs for the first time since Rebuild 2.0 began.

Here’s what to look for this week.

Blister watch

Cubs manager David Ross removed Marcus Stroman in the fourth inning of Sunday’s start with a developing blister on his right index finger. Stroman was optimistic he would make his next start, which might be Friday or Saturday against the Cleveland Guardians, depending on how Ross adjusts his rotation.

Stroman’s importance to the Cubs can’t be understated. He’s the Cubs’ best chance at being selected to the National League All-Star squad, though he sounded Sunday as though he’d prefer to not pitch to rest up for the second half. If Stroman couldn’t pitch, that could open the door for Justin Steele, who also deserves an invite. Cubs starters on Monday ranked first in the National League, and fifth overall, with a 3.77 ERA.

Quest for .500

The Cubs can’t consider themselves true contenders without being over .500, and begin the homestand two games under at 37-39. Considering they were 10 games under at 26-36 after being swept by the Los Angeles Angels on June 8, the last three weeks have been like night and day.

According to Cubs historian Ed Hartig, only two Cubs teams that fell 10 games under .500 reached the even mark: the 1968 team that started 35-45 and got to 51-51 before finishing with 84 wins; and the ‘96 team that went from 21-31 to 51-51 before regressing and ending the season at 76-86.

Schwarbomb alert

Phillies left fielder Kyle Schwarber led the NL in home runs last season with 40 and has 98 homers with three teams in 2 1/2 seasons since the Cubs non-tendered him after 2020. Of all the players from the 2016 champions whom Hoyer either traded or let leave, Schwarber has proven to be his biggest mistake. But his .754 OPS this season is his lowest since a .701 OPS in 2020, and the Phillies have struggled to regain the form they showed during last October’s postseason run to the World Series.

Either way, Schwarber will be greeted with a warm ovation at Wrigley, as happens every time he comes back. The only active stars from the 2016 champs who’ve yet to experience their Wrigley homecoming are the New York Yankees’ Anthony Rizzo and the Detroit Tigers’ Javier Báez. Barring a Cubs-Yankees or Cubs-Tigers World Series, both will have to wait until 2024.

Countdown to Aug. 1

Chairman Tom Ricketts insisted in London the Cubs would be in “buy mode” at the Aug. 1 trade deadline, which suggests President Jed Hoyer won’t move Stroman or Cody Bellinger, their two biggest trade chips who can depart as free agents after 2023.

The rotation is set, despite Jameson Taillon’s disappointing first half. Journeyman Mike Tauchman earned a starting spot in center. Christopher Morel has been their biggest power source since his call-up from Triple-A Iowa, but needs the DH spot more often than not since the Cubs don’t trust his defense at third. Trey Mancini’s defense at first, meanwhile, has been indefensible, as he admitted Sunday in London. But if Bellinger remains at first for the next six weeks, the only obvious places of need are at third base and in the bullpen, where every contender needs another arm or two.

The question Hoyer needs to ask himself is whether the Cubs can still win a bad division without making a significant move. Nick Madrigal obviously lacks power at third, but has posted a .413 on-base percentage in 13 games since his return from Iowa, which is exactly what Ross needs from him. Anthony Kay has been their only left-handed reliever of late, limited to a .146 average against Mark Leiter Jr., the second-lowest mark of any pitcher.

Look for the Cubs to add depth if they continue to perform as they have in June. Whether they’ll make a splashy move is anyone’s guess.

Sportsbook opening

The DraftKings sportsbook, which was built at the site of the old Captain Morgan Club near the right field corner of Wrigley, is scheduled to open this week, even as early as Tuesday. Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney told WSCR-AM 670 the 2,000 square-foot TV in the sportsbook is much larger than the 600-square-foot apartment he rented when he first moved to Chicago.

Kenney’s rags-to-riches story aside, the giant screen even makes Madrigal look big. But the Cubs have yet to receive their sports betting license, so for now it’s just a sports bar connected to Wrigley Field where you can bet on your phone and watch a lot of games. Ticket holders must leave the park to get inside, and will not be allowed to go back and forth during games.


Source: Berkshire mont

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