Public hysteria over the Chicago Cubs after a slow start to the regular season. Where have we heard this before? Oh right, last year and the one before that. But remain confident, the Cubs are going to be fine.
The Cubs have struggled out of the gate, going 7-9 and winning just one of their first five series. The biggest reason for their porous start has been their pitching staff.
Going into their Monday night matchup with the Miami Marlins, the Cubs starting rotation was 22nd in Major League Baseball in ERA (5.00), 28th in opponent batting average (.286), and 27th in strikeouts (63); Kyle Hendricks owns a 5.40 ERA and 2.18 WHIP; Yu Darvish owns a 6.11 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. Manager Joe Maddon‘s bullpen has been no better.
Going into Monday night the Cubs bullpen was 25th in ERA (6.00), 24th in opponent batting average (.264), 19th in strikeouts (56), and first in walks surrendered (38). Steve Cishek owns a 4.26 ERA; Tyler Chatwood, who the Cubs initially signed to be in their starting rotation a year ago, owns a 6.00 ERA and 1.83 WHIP; Kyle Ryan owns a 4.15 ERA and 1.85 WHIP; Carl Edwards Jr. owns a 32.40 ERA and 4.80 WHIP; Mike Montgomery owns a 16.88 ERA and 3.38 WHIP.
Those figures are tragic, and if they bleed on, the Cubs will be in a heap of trouble. At the same time, a bullpen is the easiest aspect of an MLB roster to alter. Sure, great backend relievers can cost a lot to acquire via trade, especially for a team in need of such aid, but it won’t deplete a team’s farm system. Plus, when Brandon Morrow makes his season debut, the Cubs could plug him back into the closer gig, or gradually bring him back into the inning.
What is the Cubs identity: their veteran starting rotation, or electric lineup? The answer is the latter, and that aspect of their ballclub hasn’t gone anywhere.The @Cubs have come out of the gate slow, but their last two seasons prove that they'll turn things around and be fine in the end. @RPStratakos touches on the subject here.Click To Tweet
Going into Monday night, the Cubs were sixth in runs (86), 10th in hits (134), ninth in home runs (23), fifth in batting average (.272), third in on-base percentage (.359), seventh in slugging (.461), and sixth in OPS (.820). The most encouraging part of their production at the plate has been them getting significant contributions outside of the usual suspects (Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Ben Zobrist).
Jason Heyward is off to a superb start at the plate, hitting .362 while totaling four home runs and 10 RBIs; Daniel Descalso is hitting .341; Willson Contreras is hitting .318 while totaling six home runs and 12 RBIs; Mark Zagunis is hitting .350; Victor Caratini is hitting .571.
Now, you could argue that there’s reason to be worried about some of the Cubs more prominent players. Darvish has been continually unable to stay healthy, find his command, and pitch like the $126 million ace the Cubs paid him to be; after an injury-riddled and underwhelming 2018 campaign, Bryant is off to a slow start at the plate, hitting just .217. But there shouldn’t be concern about Rizzo. He has historically gotten off to slow starts; the left-hander is still an elite two-way first baseman.
The Cubs have an elite offense and, while it’s off to a discouraging start, a proven starting rotation. Jon Lester is still one of the best left-handers in the sport; Cole Hamels is a steady and forgotten force on the rubber; Hendricks and Jose Quintana get hitters to groundout.
Their core is still intact and surely losing the National League Central in a Game 163 tiebreaker to the Milwaukee Brewers, as well as the NL Wild Card Game to the Colorado Rockies, was a step backwards last season. But the Cubs are still the most complete team in their division. The Brewers have a high-profile offense and shutdown bullpen, but their pitching staff is going to run out of gas given the reliance on their bullpen, as well as former relievers now starting for the first time in their careers; the St. Louis Cardinals have a potent offense, but a pitching staff that has to prove itself; the Pittsburgh Pirates are underrated, but don’t have the firepower to contend; the Cincinnati Reds improved their roster in the offseason, but are still flawed.
The Cubs aren’t guaranteed to win the NL Central, let alone the pennant, but they’re been one of baseball’s most resilient rosters in recent memory. They have also endured only subtle changes in the Maddon era. President Theo Epstein should look into fine-tuning their roster before the now-hard July 31 MLB trade deadline, but he’s going to be looking to do so with a team that’s in title contention.
Last season there were times when it looked like the Cubs weren’t even going to be a Wild Card team; they ended up hosting the one-game playoff. In 2017 many felt the Brewers had the division signed, sealed, and delivered; the Cubs charged their way to a second consecutive division crown and beat the Washington Nationals in the NL Division Series. In 2016 they trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 in the World Series with home-field advantage against them; they roared back to win the series.
They’ve faced adversity every season and found a way to overcome it. Yes, this season is different because the Brewers and Cardinals are pennant threats, but they don’t have the experience the Cubs possess in the form of late-season comebacks and postseason heroics.
When their starters begin to pitch with more consistency and their heavy swingers inevitably hit at the level they’re capable of, the Cubs will, once again, be a powerhouse team that no one wants to face in the playoffs. Why would we ever doubt that after everything they’ve done over the last four years?