The Rundown: Good, Bad and Ugly of Slow Start, Bryant on Career-Best Pace, MLB.TV Posting Record Numbers

My apologies to Sergio Leone this morning as I break down the first two weeks of the Cubs season in what is the slowest day in baseball since the day after Opening Day.

The Good

Kris Bryant appears to be over injuries that caused his poor and inconsistent play in 2020. The embattled third baseman leads the team in OPS (1.015) and SLG (.653) as nine of his 13 hits have gone for extra bases. With a 177 OPS+, the 29-year-old could very well be on his way to a career year.

  • Catcher Willson Contreras is now the best catcher in the National league, if not all of baseball. The backstop, who turns 29 in two weeks, is slashing .273/.400/1.014  and his five homers have him tied for the team lead with Bryant. He also leads the league in HBP with five and hasn’t allowed a passed ball since August 3, 2019, a streak of 71 games.
  • Craig Kimbrel has yet to allow a hit or a run in his last 9.1 innings dating back to last season. In fact, in 15 appearances since September 1 of last season, Dirty Craig has been absolutely filthy. In 14.1 innings pitched, he’s allowed just three hits with three walks and 24 strikeouts, the best run of his career.
  • Jake Arrieta has been incredibly consistent. The veteran right-hander leads Cubs starters with a 3.18 ERA and a 3.27 FIP, and has allowed just one home run in 17 innings of work.
  • The team is 24-for-73 (.329) in their last two games with eight home runs and 17 runs scored.
  • Despite a 6-9 start that has them at the bottom of the NL Central, The Cubs are just three games out of first place.
  • The Cubs’ .226 BABIP (.300 is considered league average) is worst in the majors, so bad luck is a big component of Chicago’s sluggish start.

The Bad

  • The Cubs are 5-7 against NL Central opponents, though they’ve yet to play the Reds or Cardinals.
  • The Cubs are 3-3 against the lowly Pirates, a team many predicted to win 50-60 games this year.
  • Of the regular starters, just four are over the Mendoza Line: Contreras (.273), Bryant (.265), Anthony Rizzo (.250), and and Javier Báez (.214). Those four are the only hitters on the team who are league average or better so far.
  • If you remove those players from the team’s overall statistics, the offense is downright hideous: .148 BA, 18 R, 5 HR, 16 RBI in 15 games. That means that four players account for nearly 70% of Chicago’s offense so far.
  • Three of the Cubs’ next four opponents lead their divisions. The Mets, Reds and Dodgers are all first place teams, and the Brewers are just half a game out of first in the NL Central.

The Ugly

  • The Cubs are legitimately the second-worst team in the majors right now. With a -23 run differential, last in the National League and slightly bloated by Saturday’s 13-4 win, Chicago has a Pythagorean record of 5-10. Only the Tigers (-28) have a worse run differential.
  • Starting pitchers Zach Davies and Kyle Hendricks have combined to allow 23 runs in 24.1 innings.
  • Shelby Miller has allowed 7 earned runs in one inning of work across two appearances, one in which he failed to record an out.
  • The Cubs are batting .192 as a team.
  • Baez has 27 strikeouts in 56 at bats. and has drawn just one walk.
  • Joc Pederson is hitting .077 against left-handed pitchers.
  • Ian Happ has just one extra base hit and one RBI in 48 at bats.

“Throw them up and in and then down and away,” one opposing pitcher said per Jesse Rogers of ESPN. “That’s what you do with any hitter, but especially the Cubs.”

Apropos of Nothing

Throw away everything I mentioned above.

Cubs News & Notes

  • It really is a bit too early to be concerned about Chicago’s slow start. Memorial Day always serves as the best barometer to start accurately projecting a season.
  • Scouts and opposing pitchers think the Cubs’ offensive slide is mind-boggling. “It’s not the lack of bat speed,” one NL East scout said. “These guys all have awesome bat speed. It’s mental.”
  • The Cubs offer to Báez, which was reported to be $180 million by Buster Olney on Sunday night, appears to have been in the $160-170 million range.
  • The North Siders are 25th in the latest power rankings.

Odds & Sods

Yes, it’s early.

How About That!

Though only hit-by-pitches kept Joe Musgrove and Carlos Rodón from throwing perfect games last week, it’s been eight years since the last MLB perfecto. Félix Hernández is the last pitcher to accomplish that feat.

MLB.TV posted some gaudy numbers yesterday. The streaming app registered the most-watched 18-day period in its 20-season history, including the seven most-watched days ever.

Retired MLB star Gary Sheffield said he no longer watches baseball. “These guys can go out there and strike out 180, 190 times, and it’s okay… Now, a home run is less appealing [and] I see a pop-up up player that everybody gravitates to — he’s the face of the team, the face of the city — and he has 100 strikeouts in April.”

Key Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. Ted Cruz, are set to introduce legislation to strip Major League Baseball of its antitrust exemption, though it’s unlikely to be ratified. The National Pastime is regarded as an “exhibition” and not subject to the Commerce Clause of the Constitution thanks to a 1922 landmark Supreme Court case.

It was noted last week that the Atlantic League was going to experiment with moving the pitching rubber back a foot in games later this year. The league is also testing a “double hook” DH rule, which basically means that teams can use a designated hitter until they make a pitching change. Once a starter has been removed, teams would be required to let relief pitchers hit, or substitute a pinch-hitter.

Monday’s Three Stars

  1. Paul DeJong – A 2-for-4 night with two dingers and 5 RBI for the Cardinals shortstop in a 12-5 win over the Nationals.
  2. Joe Musgrove – Though the San Diego starter took the loss, it certainly wasn’t his fault, Musgrove struck out 13 Brewers hitters across seven complete in a 3-1 loss to Milwaukee.
  3. Cubs fans – No game yesterday and nothing new to complain about.

Extra Innings

Happy Birthday, Fenway Park.

They Said It

  • “It’s going to be a long year. We know that. Even if we got off to a blazing hot start, it’s still going to be a long year. That’s the beauty of this game.” – Anthony Rizzo
  • “We’ll sync these two sides up together. It’s nice to have back-to-back good offensive days. These guys put in a lot of work and it seems to be paying off.” – David Ross
  • “[The poor start] is definitely disappointing, but nothing we can do about it now. Flush it.” – Kyle Hendricks

Tuesday Walk Up Song

What is Life? by George Harrison – When things are bad and slightly depressing, always turn to the introspective Beatle.

Back to top button