While we are all aware of the Cubs’ current offensive struggles, I thought I’d take a few moments to celebrate the success of the Cubs’ pitching staff, which in an admittedly small sample size of seven games has been very, very good.
Of the seven starts made, only two were clunkers or close: Kyle Hendricks’ Opening Day start, which can very likely be attributed to the extremely cold conditions at Wrigley Field a week ago Thursday, and Adbert Alzolay’s five-inning, four-run outing against the Brewers, which really was just one bad pitch to Travis Shaw in the first inning away from being a very good start. Hendricks righted the ship with an excellent outing in his second 2021 start against Milwaukee.
While the Cubs starters’ ERA is 3.35 and ranks eighth among National League teams and their 1.221 WHIP ranks 10th, I believe they could keep up those levels for most of this season. Those numbers won’t rank that low later in the year.
Relief pitching is a different, and better, story. Cubs relievers have posted a 2.39 ERA in 26⅓ innings, which ranks third among NL teams. The relievers’ WHIP of 1.139 also ranks third, and their 13.33 strikeout/9 inning ratio leads all MLB teams. Most of that is thanks to Craig Kimbrel, who has struck out nine of the 14 hitters he’s faced and not allowed a baserunner. But Andrew Chafin has had nearly as much success: eight K’s among the 14 hitters he’s faced so far this season. Even Dillon Maples had one solid scoreless outing of two innings.
Overall the Cubs’ team ERA of 2.95 is second among NL teams and ranks fifth among all MLB clubs, as does their 22 runs allowed.
As noted above, this is all in a very small sample size. Cubs starting pitching is different from almost every other MLB team in that most of this year’s starters are soft-tossers who pitch to contact and need solid defense behind them to succeed. So far, they have had that.
The offense, granted, is concerning. Cubs teams over the last few years have been boom-or-bust like this and won anyway. Even the 2016 World Series champions had stretches like the current Cubs are in, where the hitting seemed to vanish. From September 2-9, 2016, the Cubs scored 22 runs in seven games — one fewer than the current ballclub has in their seven games. Team record in those games? Same as now, 4-3. They also allowed 22 runs in those games, same as the current seven. So that seven-game stretch was quite similar to the current seven games, but it’s magnified now because this year, it’s the first seven, while those seven were in the middle of a year where the Cubs were coasting to a division title and eventual World Series championship.
If the 2021 Chicago Cubs continue to get pitching like this, they will win a lot of baseball games. And I believe this pitching staff is well-structured to do so.