2023 MLB First Half Recap: Chicago Cubs

Marcus Stroman and Tucker Barnhart

The Chicago Cubs entered the 2023 campaign with high expectations, thanks to an active offseason, a deep rotation, and the impending arrival of young prospects that are set to usher in the next wave of stars to Wrigley. While the Cubs did have a rocky first half in 2023, several names stood out.

Related: 2023 MLB First Half Recap: Boston Red Sox

The Good

The Cubs made a number of notable pickups this past offseason to bolster a group that won 74 games in 2022 and made life very difficult for teams throughout the year. Some of those moves haven’t worked out yet, but there were two that hit in a big way.

One was Dansby Swanson. Swanson was one of the game’s best shortstops in 2021 and 2022, as he belted over 20 home runs in each of those campaigns and played terrific defense for a Braves team that won it all two years ago. Over his first 83 games as Cub, Swanson hit a respectable .258, posted a very strong .343 OBP, hit ten home runs and teamed with Nico Hoerner to form arguably the best defensive middle infield in the game. The two have a combined Outs Above Average of +19.

The other notable pickup was Cody Bellinger, who posted two abysmal seasons in Los Angeles before the Dodgers non-tendered him last fall. Reunited with former Dodgers minor league coach and current Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly, Bellinger hit nine home runs and recorded a 128 OPS+ over 58 games.

Aside from those two, Christopher Morel exploded in his return to the Majors, as he hit .267/.320/.572 with 15 home runs in the first half. And, we can’t forget about the pitching. Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele have formed an incredible 1-2 punch in the Cubs rotation, while Adbert Alzolay emerged as a late-inning weapon this season.

The Bad

While the Cubs have received strong production from the likes of Bellinger, Morel, and Seiya Suzuki, the Cubs team OPS entered the break at .721, good for 18th in the Majors. The Cubs offense started off hot, but tailed off as the season went on.

And as far as pitching is concerned, the Cubs have yielded the fifth-fewest hits (711) in the Majors but struggled to get production from the free agent pickups Brad Boxberger and Jameson Taillon.

Taillon looked like a fine addition this past winter, as he displayed great command and stuff with the Yankees. However, he hasn’t found consistency with the Cubs and recorded the fifth-worst ERA (6.15) among NL pitchers in the first half (min. 70 IP).

What’s Ahead

The Cubs entered the break with a 42-47 record and sit 6.5 games back in the Wild Card race and seven games out of the NL Central. Chicago could still make a late run, but time is running thin.

Should the Cubs fall further out of the playoff race, Chicago’s front office will have decisions to make. Marcus Stroman’s been the ace that the Cubs needed, but the prospect of him declining his player option and entering free agency next fall would likely cause Chicago to entertain trade proposals.

Cody Bellinger, meanwhile, has a mutual option for next season at $12M but could make more on the open market as well. With few impact bats on the market, the Cubs could fetch a nice prize for the 27-year-old.