Although the final game of the series was postponed, the Chicago Cubs had a successful trip to Cincinnati. They won two out of three games against the Reds and maintained their consistency at the plate. Chicago currently sits atop the division, but don’t mark them down as favorites in the NL Central just yet. There was plenty to be positive about in their first road series of the season, but the Cubs also had a major flaw that needs to be addressed.
Depth in the Roster
First, let’s start with the positives. This roster is unexpectedly deep. 11 out of their 14 position players have multiple hits this season. Manager David Ross has started all but one player, that person being backup catcher Josh Phegley. Utility player David Bote is a prime example of this team’s depth. Not only can he play just about anywhere on the field, but he is supplying quality at-bats as well. Bote is batting .500 with two homers.
David Ross has experimented with the lineup and isn’t afraid to move players around. Victor Caratini is getting more looks compared to his 2019 campaign. He has started at catcher, but more importantly, he’s been the team’s go-to designated hitter. Similar to Bote, Caratini produces at the plate and offers depth in the field. These two guys have lessened the usual everyday starters’ workloads, which is key in this physically draining shortened season.
Starting Pitching Impresses
In the two wins vs the Reds, Chicago’s starting pitchers excelled. Jon Lester went five innings and didn’t allow a hit in the first game. He was only able to get one strikeout but the defense behind him was great. The Cincinnati Reds batters struggled to make solid contact with him on the mound. Lester was pulled after the fifth inning due to a rising pitch count, but in hindsight, the veteran probably should’ve remained in the game.
As for Alec Mills, he debuted with a quality start. Mills pitched six innings and allowed two runs. It was a pretty impressive performance, especially for a guy who wasn’t expected to be in the rotation. He is filling in for the injured Jose Quintana. The Cubs likely won’t be in a rush to get Quintana back after Mills’ pitching against the Reds. Even when Quintana returns, Mills will likely stay on the MLB roster. He was featured in the bullpen last season.
Game three of the series was a pitching duel between Kyle Hendricks and Sonny Gray — until the fifth inning. The Reds put on a clinic at the plate and put up seven runs in the fifth alone. Hendricks was hit hard unlike his Opening Day start. The Cubs began to rally late until the bullpen woes continued, which is the one big negative takeaway from this road series.
Many people were skeptical of Chicago’s bullpen prior to the season and rightfully so. To put it blatantly, the relief pitching has been terrible. In the three games vs the Reds, Cubs relievers gave up 14 earned runs. Many of them were attributed to the inability to throw strikes by several pitchers.
Cincinnati really didn’t have to work for much because they drew 15 walks against the bullpen alone. Dillion Maples was one player specifically that really struggled. Maples didn’t record an out in game three, but he walked four batters, gave up a hit and two runs. He has since been optioned to South Bend in favor of RHP Colin Rea.
Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel attempted to get his first save of the season in game one but ended up loading the bases. Much like Maples, Kimbrel also walked four batters and allowed two runs. The veteran closer simply couldn’t hit the strike zone. Cincinnati came within one run, but Jeremy Jeffress managed to get the team out of danger. They got the win, but the poor performance highlighted a bigger issue for the Cubs. One that they will need to solve if they hope to be a contender come playoff time.
The Cubs are set to begin a five-game homestand. They will play the Pittsburgh Pirates in a three-game series, before welcoming the Kansas City Royals into Wrigley Field for two games. Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, and Jon Lester are up in the rotation. This is a prime opportunity for Chicago to put some distance between themselves and their divisional competitors.
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