After last night’s 6-3 loss to the Brewers, the Cubs have now dropped four straight. The only time this team looks genuinely excited to be on the baseball field is during World Series celebrations but once the first pitch crosses the plate, they look flat and uninspired. There is zero sense of urgency.
Beyond the team’s attitude, what’s the issue?
As discussed, the team is largely unchanged, but the two biggest question marks entering the season have been the team’s most glaring weaknesses: the bullpen and leadoff spot.
The Cubs gave up a lot renting Aroldis Chapman last season because management clearly didn’t trust the bullpen. With his return to the Yankees this year, we’re missing him – big time.
Hector Rondon is out with a knee injury, which apparently isn’t that bad, but he ended last season on the disabled list – that’s bad. The rest of the bullpen isn’t helping. Justin Grimm has a 9.53 ERA in 5.2 innings pitched, Strop has a 7.20 ERA in 5.0 innings pitched, and Brian Duensing has a staggering 13.50 ERA in 2.0 innings pitched. That isn’t enough innings to justify the panic button yet, but it doesn’t exactly spell confidence either.
The good news is Carl Edwards Jr. just returned, and Wade Davis collected two saves in two opportunities with a 0.00 ERA. Great stuff.
But who will Joe Maddon turn to for middle-inning relief? It’s hard for a closer to improve his save numbers if the rest of the bullpen can’t keep us in games. Grimm is garbage and Strop is unreliable. I had barely heard of Duensing until his ERA practically shouted “terrible” through my computer screen. Someone needs to step up.
The Cubs also haven’t been hitting like we’re used to seeing.
It’s April. It’s cold. I get it. It takes some time to get comfortable after playing spring ball down in Arizona. Either way, they have to put up runs given our bullpen’s status. The Cubs have just nine homers in 13 games, the lowest total in the league. For a team that slugged 199 home runs last year, it’s a bit concerning. They also posted the National League’ second best run total last year behind just the Rockies, who basically hit into a jet stream at home. This year? They rank 22nd out of 30 teams. Yikes.
Moving Kyle Schwarber from the leadoff spot could help. He hasn’t necessarily hit poorly from that spot, and according to FanGraphs, he isn’t a bad baserunner either. Regardless, a player must pass the eye-test too, and Kyle Schwarber doesn’t. He is slow. It’d be a competitive footrace with Mo Vaughn, and Vegas has Vaughn slightly favored.
Wouldn’t it make more sense to drop Schwarber to the middle of the lineup with Bryant and Rizzo where he belongs? He’s drawing walks at a higher rate this year, but come on, give the slugger a green-light. His OBP is typically strong, so gambling a few points there for some added power certainly wouldn’t kill them, and no one’s judging his speed when he’s trotting around the bases. It would also take some pressure off Addison Russell and Ben Zobrist who are struggling, and Albert Almora Jr. is hitting .389 with a .450 OBP and has good speed.
It’s still early and expect the hitting to come to life, but keep an eye on the bullpen’s performance. We might need help there by midseason, again.