What a difference a year makes.
With the front office adding some quality veterans and bringing up two of its most heralded prospects, the team posted a 12-8 record for April, the organization’s first winning record in April since 2008. Let’s take a look at why the Cubs made such a giant leap to start the season.
- Team Record: 12-8
- Team Average: .251
- Team ERA: 3.71
- Top Hitter: Starlin Castro
- Top Pitcher: Jake Arrieta
- Team Record: 9-16
- Team Average: .236
- Team ERA: 3.79
- Top Hitter: Anthony Rizzo
- Top Pitcher: Jason Hammel
The biggest story in the month of April and probably the main reason the team has improved so much is a vastly improved offense that looks completely different than 2014. Last year, the team posted a line of .236/.300/.355 and has raised it this year to .251/.329/.380. The improved OBP has placed them fourth overall in the National League in the category and the Cubs currently lead the senior circuit with 3.94 pitches per plate appearance. The team is also a terror on the basepaths and leads the NL with 25 stolen bases. Add these altogether and not only are the Cubs on base more, but they are more effective at getting runners into scoring position with their legs and running up the pitch count on their opponents. This combination has led to a team that is more effective at coming from behind for victories.
Just this month, the club has won five games even when losing after eight innings when last season, the team only won 3 games like that for the entire year. Much of the improved offense metrics can be attributed to players like Dexter Fowler setting the table and Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Kris Bryant all hitting well in the heart of the order.
Dexter Fowler has been a godsend to the lineup and gives the team their first real leadoff hitter since Kenny Lofton back in 2003. Fowler has batted .299/.372/.442 with eight walks, is second on the team with 12 runs and is tied for the team lead with six stolen bases. His ability to consistently get on base has made Rizzo, Castro and Bryant all the more dangerous.
The best month of those three has been Rizzo who has had a monster April posting a .948 OPS. He also leads the team with a .478 OBP thanks to 14 walks and a record setting seven HBP for the month of April. His patience has helped score a team high 16 runs and he has showed some surprising speed with six stolen bases, matching his career high for an entire season.
Knocking him in for much of the month was the impressive Bryant who was the talk of Spring Training and picked up where he left off batting .318 in the clean-up spot. He’s made the lineup stronger by giving protection to Rizzo and moving players like Castro to roles that take the pressure off. Castro has responded well to being moved out of the cleanup spot and has hit .325 and leads the team with 12 RBI.
The great hitting by those four has helped mask some inconsistencies in the lineup from others like Miguel Montero, Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan. All three have had prolonged hot and cold streaks that haven’t been affected thanks to the better talent in the lineup.
Speaking of inconsistencies, this has described the pitching for the Cubs so far in a nutshell. Perhaps the most puzzling has been ace pitcher Jon Lester who has started off the month with a 0-2 record and 6.23 ERA in four starts, although his last start was his best with 10 strikeouts in six innings. Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood and Jason Hammel have picked up the slack for Lester’s slow start going a combined 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 74 strikeouts in 75.2 innings.
The real story for the pitching staff has been a complete 180 of a bullpen that was a team strength last year. Some of the issues have come from injuries to Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm who have put many pitchers in roles they don’t belong. The results have been not pretty and of nine relief pitchers, four sport an ERA over 4.50.
There has been some good in the bullpen though with Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop staying as the two best arms the Cubs have in relief. Rondon has four saves, a 1.80 ERA and nine strikeouts in 10 innings. Strop has not given up a run yet and is tied for the bullpen lead with 11 strikeouts with Zac Rosscup. Rosscup has been the bullpen’s biggest surprise and has stepped into the seventh inning role in Ramirez’s absence thanks to 1.04 ERA and improved control with a 0.46 WHIP.
To start the year, manager Joe Maddon stressed that winning each month was going to be paramount for the Cubs staying competitive. Many thought that a .500 record would be a giant leap towards respectability for the club. If this first month is any indication of what’s to come, the bar has definitely been raised and it will be interesting to see if the first month was a fluke or the start of things to come.