The Cubs’ response to the Dodgers landing Manny Machado from the Orioles in the trade of the year?
“I sent him a text and said, `Congrats, see you in the playoffs,’ “ said Cubs center fielder Albert Almora Jr., a close childhood friend who daydreamed earlier this season about the Cubs acquiring the superstar infielder. “He said, `Thanks, man, wish me well.’ “
Then the Cubs beat the Cardinals 9-6 and traded for veteran pitcher Jesse Chavez from the Rangers on Thursday night.
OK, so the Dodgers still own the National League headlines with the biggest acquisition of a hitter in a July trade in years.
But the Cubs aren’t done after acquiring the right-handed swingman for Class A lefty Tyler Thomas.
“I don’t think that’s going to be the end of it,” manager Joe Maddon said
Whether the balance of power in the NL has shifted again toward the Dodgers – as many have suggested – the Cubs may yet have the final say, depending how they address a pitching deficit.
That deficit was underscored Thursday when the Cubs put closer Brandon Morrow (biceps) on the disabled list for the second time this season.
A few hours later, on a hot, humid night, starter Kyle Hendricks failed to get out of the fifth – putting a damper on the mood he took into the All-Star break with strong performances in his previous two outings.
“He’s well, he’s healthy,” Maddon said.
But the Game 7 World Series starter and 2016 ERA champ is still searching for his typical command after battling mechanics issues much of the first half.
The Cubs won for the 13th time in 16 games Thursday – on the strength of a five-run fifth – and opened a three-game lead over the second-place Brewers.
But they’ll be the first to say that success belies a starting pitching issue just beneath the surface.
But it was also the 69th time in 94 games they’ve fallen behind. They leaned hard on their bullpen for innings in the first half, and they’ve had their sixth starter, Mike Montgomery, in the rotation since May.
“The come-from-behind wins are definitely fun and enjoyable for fans,” said Ian Happ, who capped the big fifth with two-run homer. “But I think we’d enjoy a few games where we start up and finish up.”
The Cubs said again Thursday they still have no idea when $126 million starter Yu Darvish will be ready to return after his latest setback with his elbow.
“No matter what happens we know we’re going to need more pitching to get through the season,” general manager Jed Hoyer said heading into the break.
One of their bullpen targets, Brad Hand, is off the board after San Diego traded its closer to Cleveland. But the Orioles are poised to move lefty reliever Zach Britton, and the Cubs also are in on Toronto starter J.A. Happ.
“Our numbers are among the best in the National League, both overall and as the bullpen and then even into the starters,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But you’re always looking to make it better; that’s what GM’s do.”
Chavez, 34, could be a good first step; the Cubs looked at him as a free agent in the offseason, too. He made 21 starts for the Angels last year and has a 3.51 ERA pitching exclusively as a reliever for the Rangers.
“Chavy’s good people,” said one-time Atlanta teammate Jason Heyward, who had three hits, including the tying single in the fifth. “He’s going to fit into this clubhouse really well and a guy who always wants the ball.”
“He’s a great guy, low-key,” said former Toronto teammate Morrow. “He’s got a rubber arm out of the bullpen and a swing guy that can do a lot of things well.”
For now, the Cubs will take the extra arm and look for more.
“Anytime there’s a deal, it’s always a positive, both morale-wise in the clubhouse and obviously on-the-field-performance-wise,” Cubs ace Jon Lester said.