Baseball is back, and fans are in the stands at Wrigley Field. The Chicago Cubs started their season off with a heavy dose of divisional matchups. Their first three-game series was against the Pittsburgh Pirates. They dropped the season opener but managed to win the final two games of the series. Unfortunately, their showdown with the Milwaukee Brewers went the exact opposite way. Chicago dropped two out of three games before heading back to PNC Park to play the Pirates, yet again. They bounced back on Thursday with a 4-2 victory, but could not overcome a bad start on Saturday. It is a little over a week through the MLB season, and the Cubs are sitting at 4-4 in the standings. Here’s what we learned about the team after just eight games.
It may be too early to declare the Cubs’ bullpen a strength, but that doesn’t take anything away from their great start. For a unit that struggled often last season, they seem to have figured things out thus far. They currently have the highest strikeout rate in the league. A big reason for that is Craig Kimbrel. The legendary closer looks to be back in prime form. In his first four appearances, he has been nearly perfect. Kimbrel has pitched 4.2 scoreless innings. He has two saves and nine strikeouts. This is what many baseball fans have come to expect from Kimbrel, but with Chicago, it appeared that he had regressed. He struggled in the last two seasons, primarily with control, and he didn’t have his usual velocity on the mound. However, his recent performances have proven that he still has a lot in the tank, which is great news for the Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs bullpen has the highest strikeout rate in MLB … by a LOT.
1. Cubs: 36.4%
2. NYY: 32.0%
3. SDP: 30.9%
4. Twins: 29.6%
5. Pirates: 28.8%
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) April 9, 2021
Kimbrel isn’t the only person producing in the bullpen. Andrew Chafin also seems to have filled a major role for Chicago. He was acquired at the 2020 trade deadline by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has seen limited action but was still re-signed in the offseason, which looks to be a great decision. Chafin has logged 3.2 innings with eight strikeouts. He will be very important to the team’s success because he’s their best left-handed reliever. This means he will be used in high-leverage scenarios against elite lefties. Rex Brothers was the only other southpaw on the active roster for the Cubs week one games. Kyle Ryan was available during Spring Training but has since been optioned down to Triple-A. Regardless, they’ll need all hands on deck to keep producing at a high level.
One trend that has been continuous for Chicago is their inconsistency at the plate. They have struggled early on, specifically against the Brewers. They nearly got no-hit by Freddy Peralta and company on Tuesday. In total, they only managed to get nine hits in that series. This is something that has happened frequently in the past few seasons. It was the reason they were upset by a young Miami Marlins team in the playoffs, and it could hold them back from any significant success in 2021. Chicago doesn’t lack power at the plate, but their stars are prone to going on hitless droughts. While start shortstop Javier Baez is a little too aggressive when swinging the bat–leading to more strikeouts, other players tend to be too passive. Cubs hitters are falling behind in counts, and letting the opposing pitcher pick them apart. They look outmatched at times, to put it simply.
Now, it hasn’t all been negative for their bats. They have the potential to be a dangerous lineup when they are able to get into a rhythm. Chicago also added Joc Pederson and Eric Sogard, who will help in different ways. The Cubs’ biggest weaknesses last season was hitting the fastball and focusing on contact. Pederson just so happens to be one of the best fastball hitters in MLB. On the other hand, Sogard was one of the most efficient contact hitters available in free agency. Given some time, they could help solve some of the team’s lineup problems.
Cubs Week One Featured a Solid Starting Rotation
Going into the year, there were plenty of questions surrounding the starting rotation. They have six people capable of starting. Alec Mills is the odd-man-out as of right now. He has been coming out of the bullpen; being used as an early relief option. Their starting unit looks completely different from last season, with the exception of losing Kyle Hendricks, but that hasn’t stopped them from providing some solid outings. They have three quality starts, and two of them came from veteran Jake Arrieta. Arrieta is 2-0 with both wins coming against the Pirates. Arrieta hasn’t been the only pleasant surprise for Chicago.
Trevor Williams had a great game to kick things off. He ran out of gas against the Brewers lineup, but still put together a good six innings of work in a win. He will play against his old team on Sunday. Even without much help from their offense, the starters have held their own. Their responsibility is to put the team in a position to win every day, and they’ve done that in seven out of the eight contests. In terms of velocity, they won’t be overpowering many batters. The rotation has the lowest average fastball speed in the league, but with good control, they could easily be a strength throughout the season. At least that is what can be taken away after the Cubs week one, and that could always change as the year goes on.
Embed from Getty Images