They had us worried there for a little while. After a rocky start, it looks like the Chicago Cubs are beginning to rebound and find their groove. They’re looking a little more like their old selves again. So can they begin to make their way back to the top of the NL Central? Have they righted the ship? Here’s a look at what’s going on with the Chicago Cubs now that we’re almost a month into the MLB regular season…
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Last week, the Cubs swept the Miami Marlins in a three-game series. Prior to the weekend, they were 7-3 in their last 10 games and looking a sight better than when they were 9-3 at the start of the season! Though they’re still a few games away from the division-leading Milwaukee Brewers (who they only got one game on earlier this month), fans are breathing a little easier. Well, for now.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) April 18, 2019
Prior to these last three wins, the Cubs went 1-1 against the Los Angeles Angels, with the final game postponed due to snow (hey, spring in Chicago doesn’t really mean much, does it?). And before that, they won two out of three games against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better than those six straight losses they racked up at the start of the season.
So, what’s improving?
Well, the Cubs really needed help in the bullpen and Cole Hamels has been a big help with that. He just pitched 7 shutout innings against the Marlins with no walks and eight strikeouts. Jose Quintana also stepped up and even Yu Darvish started looking a little better with eight strikeouts of his own on Tuesday. The Cubs’ pitching definitely improved overall – they had 22 scoreless innings in their sweep of the Marlins.
The Cubs signed Darvish for his strikeout potential, but his biggest accomplishment as of late includes hitting three people – the batter, catcher, and umpire – with one 99-mph fastball in Monday’s win against the Marlins. (Hey, everybody was worried about his velocity. Darvish himself admits that he wasn’t even aiming for the strike zone, just trying to throw the ball as hard as he could. He did have a three-run buffer to work with and the Cubs still won.) Perhaps his performance will quell some of that talk about his large contract and lack of performance with the Cubs thus far. Or not.
While we may still be waiting on Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to truly impress us, the Cubs’ farm system is filled with pitching prospects should they need them. Plus, veterans like Hamels and Jon Lester are also able to help out this season, though Lester will be out for at least a week due to a hamstring injury. They’ve also got some wild relievers (that means they’ve got a high rate of walks) waiting in the bullpen… but it’s better than nothing, right?
And the batting?
Star slugger Kris Bryant might be struggling at the plate, but manager Joe Maddon still has faith. The Cubs rested him a bit against the Angels and he continues to contribute to the game in other ways, like his defensive plays. And even if he’s not hitting big, Bryant has still gotten on base in 12 out of the 14 games he’s played (and 11 of those were hits). Chicago would just like to see some of those balls go out of the park… or at least result in some points. Can you blame ’em? The Cubs’ other big slugger, Anthony Rizzo, has had a hard time making contact too. Between the two of them, they didn’t score a single run in those three wins against the Marlins.
But the rest of the lineup did.
The Cubs had a total of 17 runs scored in that trio of games, and you can give credit to folks like Daniel Descalso, Willson Contreras, Jason Heyward, and Mark Zagunis for that. Descalso alone is batting .571 with limited playing time, even if he isn’t a household name. These are the guys making up for a lack of hits by Bryant and Rizzo. Meanwhile, Chicago’s other star batter, Javy Baez, has continued what looked like an MVP season from last year. He had eight hits and two homers against the Marlins. Thanks to Baez and batters number five through eight in the lineup, the Cubs are inching toward a winning record.
These first wins by the Cubs may not seem like a big deal right now. But after losing the NL Central by just one game last year, every game on the schedule matters and they know it.
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