We’re nearly a month into the MLB season, and that means teams and players are starting to settle in for the long haul. There are unsurprising developments, like Mike Trout still being the best baseball player on the planet. But there are a few surprising things, like the Chicago Cubs being 10-9. And not only are they barely above .500, they’re also fourth in the National League Central.
Four weeks into the season, the Cubs have been playing .500 baseball, which definitely isn’t what fans expect. And in a division as competitive as the NL Central, it certainly won’t get them a playoff spot. So is it time to get worried? To light candles and send prayers to the baseball gods?
Good news, Cubs fans: the answer to those questions is “probably not.” At least not right now. Here are three reasons that the Cubs’ mediocrity may not last much longer.
The team is still hitting
As a team, the Cubs are batting .258, which is fifth in all of baseball. That alone is a reason to be encouraged, but beyond that, most of the key players have gotten off to great starts. Kris Bryant and Albert Almora are hitting over .300, and Kyle Schwarber and Javy Baez aren’t far behind them. Jason Heyward is hitting a solid .262, and bench guy Tommy LaStella is swinging a .320 bat. Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo are off to slow starts, but history says they won’t be near the Mendoza line for long.
As a whole, the Cubs have a run differential of +24. That means they’ve scored 24 more runs than they’ve allowed, despite being just one game over even. They’ve had a few big wins (a 13-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates and a 16-5 win over the Colorado Rockies certainly helped), but the vast majority of their losses have been close. Of their nine lost games, six were by three runs or less. Stronger starting pitching (we’ll get to that in a minute … ) or more timely offense (the Cubs are hitting just .239 with runners in scoring position) could certainly help close games turn the Cubs’ way.
So if the Cubs aren’t having problems hitting, why are they just one game above .500? That brings us to our second reason …
The weather will (eventually) cooperate
You need to have skill to play baseball, but luck has a hand in every single win and loss. And it has a hand in whether you play at all. The Cubs have played just 19 games this season, tied for second-least in all of baseball. Five of their games have been postponed due to weather. All those starts and stops at the beginning of a season can make it tough for anyone to get into a groove.
Of course, postponements only reflect the games that were actually not played due to weather. They don’t count the games that were played in frigid temperatures. The Cubs have played almost all of their games outside and in cold weather. They’ve played just four games in an enclosed stadium, and even their recent games in St. Louis were unseasonably cold.
Weather isn’t an explain-it-all excuse for why some players are doing badly, but it can’t be discounted. When the weather gets warm — or at least when it’s no longer biting cold and/or raining on you — hitters and pitchers alike can heat up. And that’s why there’s still hope for one particular sector of Cubs players …
The starting pitching will rebound
Looking at the numbers for the Cubs rotation, they’re not what you’d call “good.” The starters have a 5.27 ERA, which ranks 26th out of 30 teams. They’ve issued 51 walks, which is sixth most in baseball, and struck out just 92, which ranks 27th out of 30.
Individually, the only pitcher who looks like himself is Jon Lester and his 3.10 ERA. Kyle Hendricks, who has an ERA of 2.51 over the last two seasons, is currently sitting at 4.09 after four starts. Yu Darvish is carrying a 6.86 ERA, and he’s not even the worst. Jose Quintana, the Cubs’ big trade deadline acquisition in 2017, has a 7.78 ERA. Yikes. Even the best offenses can’t always climb out of the holes dug by the starting pitchers.
All we have to go on is history, and history tells us that this probably won’t last forever. Yu Darvish is not a 6.86 ERA pitcher. Hendricks and Quintana are also much, much better than their ERAs are showing. There’s still plenty of time for them to bounce back, and their track records says that they will. Turning the calendar to May and to warmer weather can only help.
So as we move from the “it’s still early” part of the season to the “hurry up and start winning” part, the Cubs are still well poised to go on a tear and take back the NL Central. A good week of division play (or a few losing streaks from the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers) could put them back on top in the blink of an eye. There are still a lot of games to play, and the Cubs are still very much in the driver’s seat.
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