After finally breaking the 108-year old ‘curse’ and sporting one of the best young cores in baseball, the Chicago Cubs were the talk of Spring Training. Many publications picked them to be the first team to win back to back championships since the New York Yankees did so from 1998-2000.
Instead, the club started off the year with underwhelming 13-11 record, let’s take a look back at the World Series Champions first month.
- Team Record: 13-11
- Team Average: .255
- Team ERA: 3.77
- Top Hitter: Kris Bryant
- Top Pitcher: Wade Davis
- Team Record: 17-6
- Team Average: .255
- Team ERA: 2.39
- Top Hitter: Dexter Fowler
- Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
Much of the Cubs struggles are thanks to a starting pitching staff that has regressed quite a bit from a group that dominated much of last year. In 2016, the starting pitching notched an impressive 2.33 ERA, but this year’s group has struggled to an anemic 4.28 ERA.
The best of the five starters has been free agent acquisition Brett Anderson who won two of his four starts with a 3.54 ERA, but sported a troubling 1.57 WHIP. Close behind, was playoff ace Jon Lester who earned a no decision in four of his five starts, 26 strikeouts in 29.1 innings and a 3.68 ERA with a 1.43 WHIP.
Jake Arrieta looked good in his first three starts winning two of them with six earned runs and 21 strikeouts in 18.2 IP. In his next two he had a split record, but gave up nine earned runs in 10.1 innings. Similarly, Kyle Hendricks was also uneven to start looking more like he did in his first full season than the dominant pitcher he was last year. In his first three games, Hendricks gave up 11 earned in 16 innings, but followed it up with a much more characteristic two earned runs in 12 innings in his final two starts. John Lackey has also been inconsistent, but it may be due to declining skills for the 38-year old pitcher. Lackey had a 2-3 record in five starts with 30 strikeouts in 30 innings, a 5.10 ERA and 1.33 a WHIP.
While the rotation has been discouraging, the reworked bullpen was largely successful with a 4-5 record, six saves, 89 strikeouts in 78.1 innings with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. Leading the way has been trade acquisition Wade Davis who has arguably been the best pitcher on the staff. In 11 games he won two games, saved six and struck out 12 batters in 10.1 innings. He has also been stingy with baserunners, as he has given up just four hits, two walks and zero earned runs. Also impressive has been Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Mike Montgomery.
In 11 games, Edwards Jr, earned a win, struck out 13 batters in 10 innings and did not allow an earned run. Rondon settled in nicely to the eighth inning setup role with 11 strikeouts in nine innings while allowing just one earned. Montgomery has stepped into the long reliever role voided by Trevor Cahill and Travis Wood and sports a 1.88 ERA in 14.1 innings.
Less impressive has been Koji Uehara, Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm and Brian Duensing. Uehara was signed as a potential seventh inning setup man and has been inconsistent with a 3.72 ERA, but his two losses came in outing where he gave up two earned runs without recording an out. Strop has continued to show less dominance and more frustration with four earned, eight walks and 12 strikeouts in 8.1 innings. Grimm and Duensing have been battling to be the worst bullpen arm in April with Grimm giving up seven earned and five walks in 9.2 IP and Duensing allowed 10 hits and six earned in 6.2 IP.
With the starting pitching an early issue, the Cubs offense really kept the club in many games batting a combined .255/.339/.416 with 45 doubles, four triples, 28 home runs, 114 RBI and 122 runs scored.
The 2016 NL MVP Kris Bryant was far and away the team’s best hitter batting .289/.391/.515 with 10 doubles, four home runs, 14 RBI and tied for first with Anthony Rizzo with four stolen bases. Rizzo’s batting line of .260/.377/.500 was a little less than Bryant but he led the team with six home runs and 17 RBI. The most interesting story on the offensive side of the ball was a strong start by Jason Heyward who spent his entire off-season reworking his swing. He batted a solid .279/.340/.407 with one triple, three home runs and 16 RBI. His .747 OPS was the first time he topped the .700 mark since June of last season.
Miguel Montero, Jon Jay and Albert Almora Jr. also showed well in part time roles and should prove to be important depth pieces as the season wears on. Montero started off the month 0-for-11, but has had 13 hits in his last 23 at bats. Jay has proven to be a shrewd signing making the most of his limited playing time with a .385 batting average and five hits as a pinch hitter. Almora Jr. has looked more ready than expected earning himself the lionshare of time in center field thanks to outstanding defense and an .814 OPS.
Javier Baez, Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber were important bats during the playoffs last year and their contributions were major reasons why the team achieved the ultimate goal. However, April has not been kind to either postseason hero. Baez has returned to having issues with plate discipline striking out 21 times and walking just four times in 59 at-bats. It also led to weak .203/.262/.339 with five doubles, one home run and five RBI. Zobrist was a little better batting .216 with four doubles, three home runs and 11 RBI. Despite the poor average, Zobrist continued to be a patient hitter and walked 11 times. Schwarber scuffled to a feeble .204/.333/.344 batting line. His power has shown flashes with four doubles, three home runs and nine RBI while walking 16 times.
Despite finishing two games above .500 for the month, the Cubs still pace their division and won six of their first seven series. If the starting rotation can find themselves a middle ground between last year’s historic heights and this season’s slow start, the Northsiders could find themselves back to dominance in the National League.
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