There is no question that the Major League Baseball season is a long and grueling one. Players subject themselves to 162 games in hopes to compete for the World Series trophy. According to various reporters and analysts, general managers like to look at the season in three parts.
The first part of the season has just ended, and it’s the perfect time to check in on the Chicago Cubs and see how they are doing as a team, evaluate their free agent signings, and what they can do to improve.
Team wise, the Cubs are doing just fine. They’re second in the National League in team ERA and they’re leading the league in total runs per game. This has been able to happen thanks to the team having a shutdown bullpen (2.58 ERA as a group) and scoring over five runs per game.
In the other aspects of the game the Cubs are near the top in every category except for base stealing. They’re pretty much dominating every statistical category that can be thought of, and they haven’t gotten the best out of some of their players yet. That in turn leads to one scary thought; what if all their players were playing this well?
Anthony Rizzo had an absolute horrid April, thanks to injury, but he is starting to resemble his normal self, which isn’t a good sign for the rest of the National League. Albert Almora Jr. is consistently making a case to be the every day center fielder, and Javier Baez is looking like an All-Star. Make no mistake; this Cubs team has picked up where they left off during the second half of 2017. Part of the overall team success has come from the free agent signings they’ve had this past off-season.
After the bullpen ran out of gas last October, the front office looked to correct this almost immediately. They did this by signing relievers Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, and re-signing Brian Duensing for their bullpen. It’s worked out incredibly, as the bullpen is deep and poised to take over once October comes around. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about their starting rotation signings.
Morrow took over the closer’s role this year for the Cubs, and it’s paid off incredibly. Over 23 games, he has an ERA less than 1.00, saved 14 games, and hasn’t allowed a home run. Cishek has been everything as advertised. Over 28 games, he has an ERA of 1.73, thrown 26 innings, and even saved one game. He’s been a tremendous asset for manager Joe Maddon. Meanwhile, Duensing has also been a fantastic piece to the bullpen. Over 27 games, he has an ERA of 1.93, thrown nearly 19 innings, and also saved one game.
While the bullpen free agent signings have been fantastic, the opposite can be said for their starting rotation signings. The Cubs signed both Tyler Chatwood and Yu Darvish, in hopes that they would help the rotation compete with the other National League contenders. They let Jake Arrieta walk after the signing of Darvish, but that hasn’t worked out for them as advertised.
Chatwood, the recipient of a three-year deal, can’t seem to find the strike zone. Over nearly 54 innings, he’s issued 49 walks, given up 44 hits and hit two batters. He hasn’t had a single start in which he hasn’t walked at least one batter, and in two of his previous three starts, he has failed to get out of the third inning.
Darvish, the Cubs’ replacement for Arrieta, hasn’t lived up to expectations. Overall, he’s 1-3 with an ERA near 5.00. Darvish’s problem has been the fact that he can’t seem to escape the 5th inning without running into trouble. Out of eight starts this season, he’s only had three in which he went over five innings. In addition, Darvish has found himself on the disabled list twice this season. He’s appeared to turn the corner, but it will be a little while before he comes back to the starting rotation.
Despite everything that has gone right for the Cubs so far, they are still not in first place in the National League Central. That belongs to the Milwaukee Brewers. So, how can the Cubs improve if they’re doing so well already? Believe it or not, it starts with the managing. Joe Maddon is an incredible manager, but the way he has been treating his bullpen is a little concerning.
Yes, the bullpen is rebuilt and they are getting results. However, when the Cubs starters can only go five or six innings before getting pulled, it’s going to put an increasing strain on the relievers. The way he is running this team, the Cubs will run into the same issue they ran into last October.
The other way they can improve is just by getting average starts from both Chatwood and Darvish. Chatwood has the potential to go seven strong innings, and Darvish can easily go seven or eight strong. Getting some starts like that will really take the pressure off of the bullpen, and give the Cubs five starters that can match any team in baseball.
As for the offense, they need to keep doing what they are doing. Baez has looked like an MVP candidate through the first two months, Kris Bryant has continued to be one of the best hitters in the entire league, and Rizzo is finally getting back to his career normals. What’s been incredible is the fact that Jason Heyward has also been hitting over .300 since coming back from an injury.
If the Cubs can implement these changes, there should be no reason that they can’t make a deep stretch into October. However, the bullpen does need a break. The Cubs are playing some great baseball now, but the best is yet to come. Perhaps they will get it all together once the calendar turns from September to October?