Storm clouds gather as Cubs finish rough first half

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras plays the field during a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati on July 4, 2021.

    Chicago Cubs' Willson Contreras plays the field during a baseball game against the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati on July 4, 2021. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 7/11/2021 5:32 PM

The Cubs got an extended all-star break when Sunday's game against the Cardinals was rained out. They'll pick things up in Arizona on Friday with Kyle Hendricks on the mound.

Catcher Willson Contreras suggested the Cubs began their break before taking the field Saturday for a 6-0 loss to St. Louis. The Cubs finished the first half on a painful 2-13 run.

 

Before Sunday's game was called off, manager David Ross reacted to Contreras' comments questioning the Cubs effort.

"He was frustrated," Ross said, according to WSCR 670-AM "This is the first time he has had to be part of a team not winning. There are different things going on with him. He sees some things through a different perspective than what he has to deal with behind the plate. He was kind of vocal about that to (the media) and a lesson for him -- you hopefully want to handle these things more in-house.

"Willson is a big part of our team. I think what he said last night needs to be said in-house and not to the media. I think he understands that, and that is a good lesson. I think something good will come out of this if that makes any sense. I try to have empathy with Willson playing two sides of the ball and the pitching staff not throwing up a lot of zeros at times."

What's not exactly clear is if Contreras' frustration lies more with teammates or Cubs management. As a promising season collapsed over the last two weeks, it's easy to wonder if the Cubs feel they were set up to fail by the trade that sent their best pitcher Yu Darvish and backup catcher Victor Caratini to San Diego in a salary dump.

"I think there's a lot going on, there's a lot of things that I would like to say, but I'd rather keep it to myself than say it," Contreras said after Saturday's game. "So that's it."

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No one is quite sure what will happen to the Cubs roster with the MLB trade deadline looming on July 30. Logic suggests their bullpen stars like Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Chafin are more likely to be moved than pending free agents like Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo.

The Cubs are hoping for a healthier second half. Matt Duffy (back) is expected to begin a rehab assignment with the Iowa Cubs on Tuesday, with David Bote (shoulder) following in a few days. Duffy is on the 60-day injured list and not eligible to join the roster until July 22.

"I know these guys and what they're capable of," Ross said. "I still think we can make a run in the second half with the schedule the way it lines up, getting some guys back healthy."

Steele, Davis stand out:

Justin Steele's start for the Iowa Cubs went well Sunday. The left-hander went 3⅔ innings, allowing no hits and no runs, with 2 walks and 5 strikeouts. Steele has been a starter in the minors, but pitched well in the bullpen for the Cubs earlier this season, so this was his first start since 2019.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Iowa actually pitched a combined, 7-inning no-hitter against St. Paul, with Steele, Scott Effross and Dillon Maples handling the mound duties.

There was more good news from the minors when the Cubs' top position prospect, outfielder Brennen Davis, slugged a home run deep into center field in Sunday's MLB Futures Game.

Cary-Grove High School grad Quinn Priester threw ⅔ of a scoreless inning in the futures game. Priester was a first-round pick of the Pirates in 2019.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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