Today is the first day of June and the Chicago Cubs are still going strong. Strong? Strong is an understatement in a world where this Wrigleyville ball club, one that had taken the barrage of “losing” jokes for more than a century, is still currently the best team in all of baseball.
At 35-15 the Cubs have a .700 winning percentage and a 6.5 game lead on their Nentral division foes, the Pittsburgh Pirates. No other team in the majors has a winning percentage over .700 and only two teams (the Boston Red Sox and the San Fransisco Giants) have a winning percentage over .600 (.608 and .604 respectively).
While the hitting has been getting due attention this season, what has truly kept the Cubs competitive has been their pitching staff. The only offensive statistic in which the nothrth-siders lead MLB is on-base percentage (a tie with the Boston Red Sox). However, when it comes to pitching, it’s a whole new ballgame.
The Cubs obviously have the most wins (35) but also the best ERA in the majors (2.65), 34 points better than the Washington Nationals, who are also the only other club at this time to have a team ERA under 3.00. They’re in a three-way tie for first in quality starts (34) and have allowed a meager 128 earned runs, 26 fewer than the second-best Nationals and 141 fewer than the league-worst Cincinnati Reds, who have allowed the most earned runs (269) in the majors. The Cubs also lead in batting average against (BAA) at .204, 11 points better than the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Although the Cubs have seen some stellar offensive performances in the first part of 2016, such as leadoff man Dexter Fowler becoming the first position player this season to reach 2.0 WAR and Ben Zobrist clubbing four home runs and driving in 11 RBIs in three games, pitching is the key to the Cubs’ success during this campaign.
Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Jason Hammel have been the key components to this current pitching staff. Arrieta (the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner) came out firing on all cylinders starting his 2016 as if 2015 never ended, beginning the year 9-0 with a 1.72 ERA. Lester took a lot of heat from the Cubs faithful in 2015 after taking a huge contract and not seeming to live up to the hype. But this season has been a turnaround to say the least for Lester, who has a 2.48 ERA (second best in his career to 2014’s 2.46) and is getting on pace for 4.9 WAR. (Only Arrieta is on pace to have a better WAR for the Cubs this season.) Hammel is having what could be his best season ever. Career years can happen when lighting strikes, but to see a pitcher have that season at the ripe “old” age of 33? It’s unlikely, but he’s beating the odds with a career best 2.17 ERA and .857 winning percentage.
All in all, it has been an astounding season for Chicago’s north-side club. There has been heartbreak with the early-season loss of highly touted youngster Kyle Schwarber, but there has also been a lot to cheer for like the individual performances of David Ross, Addison Russell, and Fowler. It’s still too early to tell how it’ll all end up come the end of September, but one thing is for sure: the roll that this Cubs team is on is going to make for a really interesting summer.