Sorry, Mr. Swanson. I think it’ll get better over time. But I’m pretty sure that the Cubs team you are playing on isn’t particularly good. They’ve won just seven of 20. Absent a three game sweep against the A’s, who are only wining a little over 20 precent of their games so far, the Cubs are five games under .500. In games against National League opponents, they are 10-17. It’s just not good.
Their starting pitching has been very good. I don’t think that’s a mirage. Their bullpen has been what is usually is. Their numbers are surprisingly good. Here are two lines:
Those aren’t your primary catchers or even the current bench players. The first line is the slash line allowed by Cubs starters heading into Tuesday’s game. The second is the slash line allowed by Cubs relievers. The one spot where the team has struggled is in what Baseball Reference identifies as high leverage (.291/.357/.454).
Intuitively, relievers tend to do better than starters statistically. Relievers have a couple of advantages. One, you get the benefit of being able to go max effort. Two, you get some benefit of cherry-picking matchups. Starters not only generally face all nine hitters twice, but the other team is within reason going to put out the nine players they think give them the best chance to beat you. Still, the Cubs relievers have been pretty good.
The high-leverage situation numbers are probably a little bit small sample size. There are almost twice as many plate appearances in each of low and medium leverage situations. I’d expect some positive regression where there’s probably been a little bad luck. Also, teams will save their best bench players for those high leverage spots at the end of the game. The Cubs struggle from not having an elite end of game reliever. This isn’t a new refrain, it’s more or less by design at this point. With few exceptions, this team has been put together year after year on spare pieces and little deployment of elite end of game pitchers.
Where the Cubs struggle is offensively. There was some fluke stuff in the first few weeks of the season, but this team just isn’t good offensively. So the early season numbers look great. The Cubs had all of those double digit games early. They had six of them in their first 19 games, holy cow! Yeah, and 55 runs in 17 games since. The Cubs jumped on the rule changes out of the gate. They were stealing a bunch of bases and bludgeoning teams to death with a series of singles and an occasional double. But they are at about 3.25 runs over the last 17. That’s more than 10 percent of a season.
Of course, so was the other chunk. And they both count. So here’s the deal, the potential is there. The Cubs have a dynamic trio of table setters in Nico Hoerner, Dansby Swanson and Ian Happ. Those three have had a lot of production. Cody Bellinger has exceeded all but the most outrageous expectations anyone had for him. The team is largely an abyss after those four.
The Cubs slugging percentage looks really nice. But of course, it is buoyed by a really high batting average (which is no doubt buoyed by a .322 BABIP that is second in the league, and almost certainly unsustainable). There ISO is below league average. And that number benefits from a freakishly hot April for Patrick Wisdom.
I wondered while the team was hot what was going to look when teams started to execute their game plans more consistently. Defenses adjust, the running game has dried up a fair bit. All too often, it takes three or even four baserunners to produce run. And so the Cubs are leaving a ton of men on base and hitting into an elevated number of double plays.
Of course, all of this tracks. The pundits, the good ones and the bad, pointed out that the Cubs just don’t have enough power in general. Patrick Wisdom is a really good bottom third of the order slugger type. I’m fine with him as long as he can turn in decent to good defense. I wish I could readily call to mind the last really great slugging corner outfielder the Cubs had. A few of you screamed Kyle Schwarber and clearly that’s the right answer. But if he’d been the slugger he’s been since he left Chicago, he’d have never gotten away.
This team’s best long term hope is that Matt Mervis and Christopher Morel develop into a pair of boppers like they were for the Iowa Cubs in April. The lineup has got to get longer. Trey Mancini and Seiya Suzuki can clearly be better than they have been, but there has never been a lot of elite play out of either one. Mancini and Wisdom are already both 31 years old. Suzuki is 28. These aren’t ages where we expect a great deal of statistical progression.
I’m sure Suzuki is better than what we’ve seen from him, but the Cubs need more. Morel is 24 and Mervis 25. Let’s hope that one or both of them can progress into a star. Morel put up star level stats for a little while last year before the league caught up. He was absolutely decimating Triple-A pitching. Mervis has hit everywhere he’s gone (though not always from day one).
There is hope, but I’m back to where I was before the season when I thought this team might win about 75 games. They don’t yet have the weapons to compete night in and night out. It’s been unfortunate to watch a Cardinals team that has inexplicably been among the worst in baseball in the early going be head and shoulders better for two days. But it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t been the case through a two game sample. The remaining hope is that the Cubs haven’t righted their season.
Let’s find three positives in another loss.
- Dansby Swanson had a night. A homer and a pair of doubles He drove in three of the four runs.
- Christopher Morel. A homer, a single and a stolen base in his first game in the lineup. Though he did hit into one of three double plays the Cubs hit into.
- Javier Assad. David Ross probably got a little greedy in a tie game, sending him out for a sixth inning of work. Still, if he’d been the starter, we’d be fairly happy with four hits, two walks, two runs in 5⅓ innings. We say things like this give his team a chance to win.
Game 36, May 9: Cardinals 6, at Cubs 4 (17-19)
Reminder: Heroes and Goats are determined by WPA scores and are in no way subjective.
- Superhero: Dansby Swanson (.240). 3-5, HR, 2-2B, 3RBI, R
- Hero: Christopher Morel (.188). 2-4, HR, SB, K, DP
- Sidekick: Michael Rucker (.024). ⅔ IP, 2 batters, K
- Billy Goat: Eric Hosmer (-.250). 1-4, 2K, DP
- Goat: Jameson Taillon (-.243). 2⅔ IP, 15 batters, 5H, 2BB, 4R, 5K
- Kid: Seiya Suzuki (-.107). 0-2, 2BB, K
WPA Play of the Game: Paul DeJong led off the ninth inning with a homer to break up a tie game. (.341)
*Cubs Play of the Game: The game was tied because Christopher Morel homered to tie the game with two outs in the sixth inning. (.197)
Who was the Cubs Player of the Game?
This poll is closed
Javier Assad (5 ⅓ IP, 20 batters, 4H, 2BB, 2R)
Someone else (leave your suggestion below)
Yesterday’s Winner: Dansby Swanson (Superhero 25-10)
Rizzo Award Cumulative Standings: (Top 5/Bottom 5)
The award is named for Anthony Rizzo, who finished first in this category three of the first four years it was in existence and four times overall. He also recorded the highest season total ever at +65.5. The point scale is three points for a Superhero down to negative three points for a Billy Goat.
- Justin Steele +13
- Marcus Stroman/Ian Happ +11
- Mark Leiter Jr. +9.5
- Dansby Swanson +4.5
- Michael Fulmer/Jameson Taillon -5
- Patrick Wisdom -5.5
- Nico Hoerner -6.5
- Trey Mancini -8
Up Next: The Cubs will try to salvage a win out of the series. They should have the right guy to do it. Justin Steele (5-0, 1.45, 43⅓ IP) has quite simply been one of the best pitchers in MLB in the early going. Last time out, he beat the Marlins, throwing seven innings and allowing one run on six hits with no walks.
Lefty Jordan Montgomery (2-4, 3.29, 41 IP) has been fairly effective despite his won lost record. Last time out, he allowed two runs on six hits and a walk over six innings against the Tigers. The Cubs are 7-4 against lefties and have their best starter on the mound. This is absolutely a game they should win. But Montgomery is no pushover.