The Chicago Cubs sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates shows they have been on a roll all month long. The Cubs have won eight of their last ten games and continue to take care of business. They are coming off a successful six-game road trip, in which they also secured a series win over the St. Louis Cardinals. Overall, they went 5-1 and quickly moved up in the NL Central division standings. They’re one of the hottest teams in baseball after a slow start to the season.
Cubs Sweep The Pirates And More
Chicago’s Much Improved Pitching
Chicago’s starting pitching has been inconsistent throughout the season. However, they seem to have turned things around recently, which has taken the pressure off the bullpen. Trevor Williams and Kyle Hendricks put together back-to-back quality starts. Williams, who is a former Pirate, pitched six innings in game two of the series. He held his former team to just one run on three hits while striking out seven batters. Pitching deep into games has been a struggle for Williams, so this start was rather encouraging.
Hendricks followed it up by going seven innings himself. It was his usual efficient outing but may have been overshadowed by some late home runs. Chicago’s ace gave up three solo shots in his win on Thursday, which gives him a season total of 14 homers allowed. That leads MLB. He’ll need to mitigate the long ball in the future, but it’s the only real blemish on what was a very controlled start.
Chicago’s bullpen has been nothing short of elite in May. They have a combined ERA of 1.79, attributing to them striking opponents out in almost a third of every at-bat. Crag Kimbrel has been the face of their operations. The veteran closer has relied on his curveball to draw swings and misses. That coupled with a well-located high fastball has made him tough to hit against. He closed the first two games of the series and now has 11 saves on the season.
The Cubs’ bullpen has been a surprising strength, and Pittsburgh couldn’t find much success against them. Chicago relievers put in nine scoreless innings of work in the series. David Ross has plenty of effective arms at his disposal every game. Dan Winkler was one of the only pitchers that struggled. He walked a couple of batters and hit another with a pitch. It wasn’t a strong appearance, but the 25-year-old right-hander still has a ridiculously low ERA of 0.54 in 2021. Ryan Tepera was able to pick up the slack when needed and has shown that he is reliable in high leverage situations. He got his first save of the season in game three but is normally used as a setup pitcher in the eighth, along with Andrew Chafin.
Next Man Up Mentality
With several injuries, Chicago’s lineup has featured some new faces. Patrick Wisdom made his debut with Chicago and made the most of it. He roped a double off the right-field wall and hit a homer, which ended up being the winning run. He was called up after Matt Duffy, and Nico Hoerner went to the 10-day IL. Hoener was visibly in pain after running out a ground ball. He suffered a hamstring strain when reaching for first base in the first game of the series. There hasn’t been a specific timeline for when he’ll be back in action, but the assumption is that he may miss more than a minimum of ten days.
Chicago is also missing Jason Heyward and Jake Marisnick in the outfield, so they have to go into every game with the next-man-up mentality. Kris Bryant has been playing all over the diamond. He started this series in the outfield and ended it on first base. His versatility on defense has been important for the Cubs and will continue to be until they get the roster back to full strength. Bryant has put up better numbers this season than he did in his MVP season at this point. Despite his uncertain future, he is currently the focal point of their offense.
After his 1st inning HR, Kris Bryant’s OPS vs lefties is up to 1.557, tops in baseball and would be the second highest for a full season behind Jeff Bagwell in 1994.
— Jesse Rogers (@JesseRogersESPN) May 27, 2021
Joc Pederson is another player that has carried the Cubs’ production at the plate. He had a two-homerun game this series and has continued his dominance on right-handed pitching. When a righty is on the mound, David Ross has penciled Pederson as the lead-off hitter, and it has paid dividends. His success has led directly to team success in May.
A Look Ahead
The Cubs are headed back home to Wrigley Field for a matchup against the Cincinnati Reds. Cincinnati got the best of Chicago when they squared off at the start of the month, taking two out of three games. That series included a thriller, where both teams combined for 25 runs in one game. The Reds have two of the best hitters in baseball, with Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker.
It should be a great weekend series. Chicago will look to stay hot and finish May strong, while Cincinnati hopes to close some ground in the standings. Game one will feature Cubs’ Adbert Alzolay (2-4, 4.30 ERA) and Reds’ Vladimir Gutierrez (0-0, 0.00 ERA). The first pitch will be at 1:20 pm on Friday.
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