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3 takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ series win vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks
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3 takeaways from the Chicago Cubs’ series win vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks

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Cubs Diamondbacks Baseball

Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras (40) swings and misses on a pitch as Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Daulton Varsho, left, reaches out to make the catch during the ninth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 18, 2021, in Phoenix. The Diamondbacks defeated the Cubs 6-4.

The Chicago Cubs accomplished what they should have with their West Coast trip.

They took two of three games from the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have won only 13 games since April. The consecutive victories were the Cubs’ first since June 22 versus Cleveland and June 24 at Los Angeles. They hope to continue to build momentum as they start a four-game series Monday night in St. Louis. Onto the series takeaways:

1. Adbert Alzolay’s developing cutter is a pitch that can take him to the next level.

Rookie right-hander Adbert Alzolay isn’t complacent. He’s been solid through 16 starts, even if the numbers aren’t always reflective of his performance. He’s learning each time out in his first full big-league season.

Cubs Diamondbacks Baseball

Chicago Cubs pitcher Adbert Alzolay throws against the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first inning during a baseball game, Saturday, July 17, 2021, in Phoenix.

Alzolay isn’t satisfied with relying on his nasty slider as a great weapon. He’s added a cutter to his repertoire, a pitch that can help him take those next steps to be a more complete starting pitcher.

Alzolay threw 14 cutters in Saturday’s win in Arizona, which accounts for 32% of his total cutters thrown this season. Most of those have come in his last three starts; he didn’t use a cutter until June 2 against the San Diego Padres and then didn’t throw it again until a month later versus the Cincinnati Reds. It’s a pitch he can use to try to help neutralize left-handed hitters.

“It’s coming along pretty good,” Alzolay said Saturday. “I feel it was just a matter of time and knowing the pitch better, picking my spots to throw it and my location for the pitch. It’s really good with my sinker and my slider, too. It’s been a lot of hard work to get that pitch going, but I feel super comfortable with that now.”

Alzolay is clearly eager to get better and do what he can to be his best version. Saturday’s outing was another encouraging step in his development.

“I’d like to see him to be able to negate some of the lefties diving out there, whether it’s on his change-up or the slider that’s got depth that gets a little bit more into the barrel,” manager David Ross said this weekend. “It stays up in one plane and gets into the handle of the bat a little bit more. It’s something he’s still working on, but I’ve seen a little bit early success with it.”

Cubs Diamondbacks Baseball

Chicago Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos, left, comes to the mound to visit Cubs starting pitcher Zach Davies (27) during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Sunday, July 18, 2021, in Phoenix. 

2. The series win creates what ifs to start the second half.

It might be hard at the end of the season for the Cubs not wonder how things could have played out differently had they not lost 13 of 15 games going into the All-Star break. The beginning of the second-half schedule would have set up the Cubs to make a strong push before the July 30 trade deadline.

A series win against Arizona after being positioned to secure a sweep is the kind of post-break start that would have been what the Cubs were looking for as they play eight of their next 11 games against division rivals. Instead, it likely makes it harder for players and fans to wait and see if the front office will trade their best players in an effort to retool for 2022 and beyond.

“These guys are in the right frame of mind,” Ross said Sunday. “The things they’re doing, the energy they’re bringing, the way they’ve gone about their business from the workout (Thursday) all the way through this series for sure has been positive.”

Cubs Diamondbacks Baseball

Chicago Cubs relief pitcher Kyle Ryan throws a pitch against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Sunday, July 18, 2021, in Phoenix. 

The fight the Cubs showed in the ninth inning in back-to-back games to close out the series was a good sign, though, again a little too late to prevent the organization’s decision makers from examining trades as sellers instead of buyers. Had the Cubs merely played .500 ball or even slightly below the previous two weeks rather than the disastrous stretch they delivered, a series victory against the worst team in baseball — who come to Wrigley Field this upcoming weekend — would’ve taken care of business. Instead, they lost ground on the first-place Milwaukee Brewers.

Joe and Matt discuss the recent hot streak of Cubs short stop Javier Baez and some potential fits for the all star infielder at the trade deadline including a particular team out west 

3. While the Cubs try to keep blinders on, the looming trade deadline won’t quell speculation and rumors.

The Cubs are saying the right things in the lead up to the trade deadline.

They’re trying to take it one day at a time and approach it with a 1-0 mentality every day and all the other clichés. For the veterans on the team, it’s not the first time dealing with this deadline scenario. But no matter how much Ross and his team tries to focus on the present, the deadline is casting a shadow of uncertainty both on what happens to their impending free-agent stars but what pieces they ultimately choose to move forward with. The latter might not be fully answered until the offseason.

As much Cubs players are likely tired of being asked about possible trades and the unknowns of the next 12 days, that’s their reality and part of what comes with playing for a big-market team that has underachieved. When asked if he has any optimism in getting a deal done before the deadline, Javier Báez appears to have his focus more set on the Cubs’ big-picture situation.

“If anything happened, I’m ready over here,” Báez said after Sunday’s loss. “It’s time to focus to get back into first place and get back on track to make the playoffs. I’m not really paying attention to that.”

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