On this off day, the Cubs stand at 7-9, with 16 games in the books for the 2022 season.
That’s essentially 10 percent of the season, and a good time to look at what’s happened to date for the team and what’s gone wrong so far and what seems to be working.
What’s gone right for the Cubs in 2022
The offense has done quite well
The Cubs lead MLB with 84 runs in 16 games, an average of 5.25 runs per game.
Yes, this is skewed quite a bit by the 21 runs posted against the Pirates Saturday. Take that game off the ledger and it’s an average of 4.2 runs in the other 15 games. Still, those runs were scored and they count. The team also leads MLB in BA (.273), OBP (.354), OPS (.774), ranks second in doubles (35), third in SLG (.420) and eighth in walks (61).
All of this was accomplished despite having an average game-time temperature of 53, and half of those 10 games were played in temps in the 40s. Yes, both teams have to play in those conditions, but the Cubs hit well even with bad weather — and on the one nice day they scored 21 runs.
Seiya Suzuki has been as advertised
The Japanese star, despite signing late (March 18) and playing in only seven spring games, has hit MLB pitching well. Through Sunday’s games he leads MLB in OBP (.492) and OPS (1.180) and is drawing walks (tied for third in MLB, 13) and hitting for power (seventh in SLG, .688).
Some MLB pitchers have fooled him, but that happens to every MLB hitter. He has fit right in on the field and by all accounts his teammates love him.
Kyle Hendricks seems to have righted the ship
Hendricks threw well against the Brewers on Opening Day, then had a couple of rough outings before throwing seven outstanding innings against the Pirates this past Saturday. His next start will be in Milwaukee, so hopefully he can keep the good things going against them. His walk rate is still a bit too high, though.
The bullpen in general has been quite good
The Cubs pen has an ERA of 2.54 and WHIP of 1.129 in 67⅓ innings, with 23 walks and 75 strikeouts. The ERA ranks seventh in MLB and the WHIP ranks 12th, both in the upper half of MLB.
Much of this is due to Keegan Thompson, who has been a revelation. Thompson hasn’t allowed a run in 13⅔ innings, and has allowed only 10 of the 47 batters he’s faced to reach base. Should Thompson head to the rotation? Maybe — or maybe this long-relief role is better suited for him.
David Robertson has been a solid closer so far, with no runs allowed and four saves.
What to do with Alfonso Rivas?
He’s hit well in a very small sample size (6-for-12, a double, a home run). He’s good really at only one position, first base. Should the Cubs give him more playing time in lieu of Frank Schwindel? Schwindel has had his moments, but he’s not playing at the All-Star level he did for the last two months of 2021.
The Drew Smyly signing looks good
Smyly’s last 18 outings for Atlanta (12 starts) in 2021 produced a 3.37 ERA and 1.344 WHIP, which would be just fine for a mid-rotation starter.
He’s started off a bit better than that in three starts so far this year. Keep up the good work.
Patrick Wisdom is who he is
Wisdom got off to a terrible start and there were calls to bench him. Since April 15 he’s hitting .407/.500/.815 (11-for-27) with five doubles and two home runs — and 10 strikeouts. He’s going to do this much of the time; he’s one of the streakiest hitters I’ve ever seen. A good comp would be Dave Kingman, only with plus defense at third base.
Which brings me to...
What’s gone wrong for the Cubs in 2022
Jonathan Villar simply cannot play anything but second base
I remember watching Villar with the Brewers, Mets and other teams and while he was never great defensively, he was never this bad. He doesn’t have great range and he has made several costly throwing errors on what should have been routine plays.
He’s hit reasonably well, though since going 4-for-5 against the Rockies April 16, he’s just 6-for-25 (.240) with no walks.
Second base (or DH) only for Villar, please.
What on Earth has happened to Marcus Stroman?
Before the Suzuki signing, this was the Cubs’ big splash into free agency. Stroman was arguably the best pitcher on the FA market this past offseason and should have been a solid No. 2 to Hendricks.
Instead, after a solid first start against the Brewers, Stroman has a 12.96 ERA and 2.040 WHIP in two starts against the Rockies (in Coors Field, where he had previously pitched well) and Rays, completing just 8⅓ innings in those two starts.
There is, of course, plenty of time for Stroman to get back on track, and he appears to be a thoughtful guy who works hard on correcting his flaws. It would be nice if that started during the upcoming road trip to Atlanta and Milwaukee.
Can we end the Mark Leiter Jr. experiment already?
There’s a reason this guy had not pitched in MLB since 2018. Yes, he threw well in Triple-A last year. That’s not translating to MLB results.
Granted, maybe the Cubs don’t have anyone else. But they easily could have skipped the fifth spot in the rotation for a while with three off days in the next 10 calendar days.
Instead, Leiter will start against the Braves Tuesday. If that’s another disaster, the Cubs really have to figure something else out.
Despite the good bullpen work, the Cubs are not good in one-run games
After Sunday’s loss, the Cubs are 2-5 in one-run games (and thus 5-4 in other games). They can’t seem to get a clutch hit down in late innings when down by a run or two. This will have to change if they’re going to stay near .500, which was my forecast when this season began.
Willson Contreras is hitting, but...
Contreras’ overall numbers (.255/.356/.451, two home runs) are near his career averages, but as we have seen in a couple of important game situations, he has not done well in “late and close” plate appearances, where he is 0-for-9 with five strikeouts. Small sample size caveat here, of course.
Michael Hermosillo is not hitting, but...
Hermosillo is batting just .118/.318/.176 (2-for-17). Part of this is because he’s just not getting playing time. He’s started just five games. On the other hand, David Ross has not hesitated batting him for Jason Heyward early in games to get the platoon advantage.
If this is a time to “see what we’ve got” on the roster, Hermosillo should play more. Apart from Suzuki, he’s the Cubs’ best defensive outfielder.
What’s going on with Nick Madrigal?
Madrigal is struggling at the plate, batting just .213/.288/.255. The lack of power was expected — Madrigal had just two home runs in 303 at-bats with the White Sox before last year’s trade.
But he also hit .317/.358/.406 for the Sox. That’s what we expected to see here. If he can hit like that, he should be leading off. Maybe David Ross should just do that and see what happens. And speaking of leadoff...
Why is Rafael Ortega leading off?
Ortega had two doubles from the leadoff spot Sunday, which is good.
He has been the leadoff hitter in 10 of the Cubs’ 16 games. He’s hitting .229/.325/.314 when batting first. Now, .325 isn’t awful from the leadoff spot... but it’s not all that good, either. As I noted above, I’d rather see Madrigal just have that spot and be left alone there. Madrigal has hit .361/.400./444 in his career when batting first. (Small sample size, granted, 40 plate appearances. Still.)
I do understand that in some ways, these games are serving as extended spring training. With the shortened spring, managers are seeing what they’ve got while they have expanded rosters. The Cubs currently are carrying 13 position players and 15 pitchers. They’ll have the next six games with that mix, then will have to cut two pitchers as of May 2. Ethan Roberts is probably going to be one of those. Roberts has talent, but he’s probably better served at Iowa, plus he’s got options. Who will be the other pitcher cut?
This team is just about what I thought they’d be, a team that could look really good some days, awful on others. That’s almost the definition of a .500 ballclub, right? They played well against the Brewers and had a couple of close games against the Rays, both playoff contenders. They split a series in Coors Field, which isn’t easy to do (no other visiting team has won two games in a series at Coors this year). And then they drop four of six to the Pirates, who were widely expected to finish last in the NL Central this year.
I’ll stick with my .500 ballclub forecast. This team is still better than you think it is, although they need improvement in several areas.
Give the Cubs a grade for their first 16 games of 2022.
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