Don’t Panic, It’s Only May
Are we panicking yet, Cubs fans? Good. Because we shouldn’t be. It’s still very early in the season, and no one is running away with the NL Central, and no one is out of contention yet. That means, all things considered, that there is still tons of baseball left and lots of time to sort out what is ailing the Cubs.
That’s the good news, and for what it’s worth, the Cubs are still projected to win 92 games this and take the division. The bad news is that the Cubs, who are a far superior team that their record shows, are a .500 team, in fourth place and are playing in a division that looks like, at this point, could be a three or four team race to the crown. But it’s a long season, and that could all change.
At the moment, the Cubs are playing very bad baseball, but they’re not alone. In fact, if you look across baseball, most teams are hovering around the equator at the moment. I tell you this to tell you that the Cubs, who just dropped two of three this week from a very talented Colorado Rockies team, have only lost one series to a team that maybe they shouldn’t have — that being the three-game sweep at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Chicago isn’t clicking on all cylinders right now and catcher Miguel Montero this week told reporters that the Cubs “can’t take anything for granted, and right now I feel like we do.” Whether he meant in the standings, or whether he was referring to the team feeling entitled, or even a sense of internal pressure, by being defending champions, the fact is that wins won’t be handed to them and they’ll have to grind it out just like everyone else.
The most glaring issue with the team is within the starting rotation. There are velocity and command issues across the board and it’s been a rarity to this point for a Cubs starter to go more than five innings in a game, leading to a heavily taxed bullpen. Cubs starters have only delivered 12 quality starts this season, far below league average, and only two, Jon Lester and John Lackey, have pitched into the seventh. So, yeah, that’s not great. But Cubs manager Joe Maddon has stressed that he’s not concerned about his starters, so long as they aren’t injured. I love Joe; he’s arguably one of the best managers in the entire game, so I trust his insight on this.
We did get some pretty excellent starts this week in Denver, from Lackey and Kyle Hendricks, but there is a more looming concern with Jake Arrieta, who has a 5.35 ERA, worst among Chicago’s starters not named Brett Anderson, and got clobbered in Game One of Tuesday’s doubleheader. I’m not sure what’s going on with him, but here’s to hoping he gets it figured out.
Montero has also alluded to the lack of inning depth from the rotation and the pressure it puts on hitters. The Cubs are hitting, and scoring with some regularity, however, save for Wednesday’s matchup — They got blanked at Coors Field! How is that even allowed to happen? — but the pitching staff has a propensity for yielding runs early, which puts their offense in a bind.
Let’s Get Some Runs!
Speaking of the offense, it’s also quite troublesome that Cubs hitters can’t seem to get runners home. That trend persisted in Colorado, as the Cubs left eight on base Tuesday afternoon, 14 in the nightcap (a game they won 8-1), and another eight on Wednesday. Yep. Just imagine when they get that worked out, how much of a difference it will make.
Aside from that, the defense, save for some miscues in the Rockies series, has straightened itself out, and the overworked bullpen has consistently been lights out. But the team just isn’t playing consistent baseball right now — but you have to believe that they will. They’re far too talented a group to have this slump prolonged. I’m just thankful it’s mid-May and not August or September when it’s time to make a playoff push.
Life won’t get much easier for the Cubs, as they’ll head to St. Louis for a real test this weekend for a three-game set against the suddenly red hot Cardinals.
Eddie Butler will start on Friday in St. Louis, in his Cubs debut, in place of the injured and ineffective Anderson. Butler was acquired from Colorado and has an ERA of just above 1.00 at Triple-A Iowa this season. Good luck, sir. He’ll be followed by Lester and presumably Arrieta.
Buckle up, folks. It could be a long week.
AA – Tennessee Smokies (20-13) Lost 2 to 0
SP – Preston Morrison – 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 2 K
CF – Jacob Hannemann – 1 for 4, 2B
A-Adv – Myrtle Beach Pelicans (18-15) Split a DH
SP – Adbert Alzolay – 7 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
SP – Casey Bloomquist – 3 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 1 K
DH – Tyler Alamo – 1 for 3, HR
A – South Bend Cubs (20-12) Lost 4 to 3
SP – Bryan Hudson – 6 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K
RF – Brandon Cummins – 3 for 4, R, SB