Cubs Month In Review – May

Our monthly review series rolls on to May that sees 2013 and 2014 blur together as the Cubs sported a similar record as well as an improved pitching staff to help lead to more wins. Let’s see how this year’s squad stacked up this month.

  • Team Record: 11-16
  • Team Average: .230
  • Team ERA: 3.51
  • Top Hitter: Junior Lake
  • Top Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija
  • Team Record: 13-14
  • Team Average: .264
  • Team ERA:  3.48
  • Top Hitter: Alfonso Soriano
  • Top Pitcher: Scott Feldman

May has been an interesting month to be a Cubs fan so far. In the first half of the month from May 2 through May 16, the team posted an abysmal 4-10 record, complete with one four game losing streak and two three-game skids. However, from May 17 on, the Cubs compiled a much better record of 7-6. Much of this success has been thanks to a pitching staff led by Jeff Samardzija, who finished the month with the best ERA (1.68) in the game. He also finally won his first game and put up stellar numbers last month to the tune of a 1-1 record, 1.32 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 33 K in 34 IP. In addition to Samardzija, the team saw some solid work from young players in Neil Ramirez who for the month put up a 0.93 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9.2 IP, surprise closer Hector Rondon racked up five saves and Brian Schlitter who posted a 1.23 ERA last month. The rest of the staff was great too, with the starters pitching to a 3.78 ERA and the relievers posting a surprising 2.99 ERA. These numbers led to a cumulative 3.65 ERA which placed them in the upper half of the majors. Not bad for a team that has the worst record. 2013 saw a similar ERA to this season thanks to excellent pitching performances from Samardzija, Scott Feldman, James Russell and Kevin Gregg. The biggest pitching surprise for the month was a toss-up between Scott Feldman whose solid month undoubtedly helped him raise his trade stock. He posted a 4-1 record, 2.25 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 39 strikeouts in 40 IP. Gregg was brilliant simply for the fact he gave up just one earned in 9 IP and did not blow a save all month.

On the downside, the team has struggled to hit in May posting a meager slash line of .230/.298/.377, a stark contrast to 2013’s .264/.319/.422. The 2013 squad had five hitters that hit over .290 with two hitting over .300. The big hitter last May was Alfonso Soriano who after hitting just one home run while driving in only two runs in April of 2013, he smacked a team high five home runs with 20 RBI. The best hitters of this May has been Junior Lake (.273/.313/.477 4 home runs, 16 RBI) and Luis Valbuena (.303/.384/.526 2 HRs, 8 RBI), the rest of the team though has struggled to a putrid .218/.288/.350. Right in the middle of the terrible hitting has been Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro who had some rough stretches. For example, at one point, Castro was stuck in a 0-for-17 slump and Rizzo sported a 0-for-12. As a whole, the duo batted just .246. Another player in the middle of a slump is leadoff hitter, Emilio Bonifacio. After a great April that saw him getting on base consistently and giving the team a solid leadoff option, he has been terrible since. Posting a line of .216/.259/.304 with two stolen bases in May, compared to 10 stolen bases in April. Enigma Mike Olt continues to hit only when it counts, with seven of his 11 hits going for extra bases. It’s likely that may be the only reason the front office allows his terrible .167 average to stay up in the majors. At the rate the current team is going offensively, it would be exciting to see the Cubs hit .240 for a month. Yikes.

Despite the terrible hitting though, another positive is that much of the team’s veteran assets for trades have been performing better, but not enough to make them tradable. For example in April, Nate Schierholtz had a .492 OPS and in May he posted a .639 OPS. While the numbers are improved, they’re still awful. Jose Veras has pitched much better, posting a 2.35 ERA in 7.2 IP. However, thanks to the solid performances of guys like Rondon, Ramirez and Schlitter, Veras has had his closing job taken away and hasn’t really pitched on consecutive days. Same goes for Wesley Wright and Carlos Villanueva who also have pitched better, but haven’t really gotten any regular work. Right now the team’s two biggest veteran trade chips seem to be Jason Hammel and an unexpected Edwin Jackson. At this point last year, Jackson had a 5.85 ERA thanks to giving up 13 earned runs in 20 innings. This season, Jackson owns a 4.30 ERA with 14 earned runs in 29.1 innings. Not great, but definitely an improvement and if he can keep it up, the Cubs might be able to convince someone to take him off their hands.

As a whole for the month, it’s definitely a positive that the Cubs were able to post a winning record in the last 13 games of May. It may signal a team that is improving and gelling together better. Or it may signal a team that has gotten lucky with excellent pitching that has mostly overcome a terrible offense. If the Cubs are to continue to get better and accelerate the rebuild they definitely have to hit. If the pitching falls back to earth and the offense is still struggling come June, it’s a possibility that in June of 2015, the Cubs may have the top pick in the draft. Here’s hoping that the end of May was real progress and not an aberration.

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Quote of the Day

"When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all." – Theodore Roosevelt