The Chicago Cubs blitzed through their first nine games without much trouble before suffering an uncharacteristically bad defeat against the Colorado Rockies on Friday afternoon. They recovered nicely behind Jake Arrieta and some very loud offense on Saturday, which is what we expect in this part of the schedule. Evan at Cubs Insider had already broken down the Cubs’ 2016 game schedule and agrees that this month is probably the easiest part of the entire season. Ivy will set up a series recap later, but my guess is that the Cubs wrap up another series victory before heading to St. Louis to take on the defending NL Central champions…a team that they dispatched in last year’s NLDS, if you will remember.
While this stretch of the early season has been relatively easy–and let’s be honest, even with the unpredictability of baseball and the fact that all MLB teams are stocked with major-league caliber talent by default, we can still say that the teams the Cubs have been playing are going to be pretty bad–I believe that many of the trends we have seen from the North Siders. I’m not expecting Dexter Fowler to keep hitting over .400 or Jake Arrieta to never give up a run at Wrigley Field again, but I do expect that the pitching will continue to be solid and the offensive approach to continue to be patient and relentless.
Even if the opposing teams are unlikely to be contenders this fall, we still have to be aware that the Cubs wore down solid-to-elite pitchers like Garrett Richards, Zack Greinke, and Shelby Miller. They also kept lineups that have dangerous hitters like Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt in check. The teams in May are going to be comparably tougher, but the overall one-through-eight (and sometimes the pitcher gets in the act, too!) approach will not change because of the opponent, and the pitching will still be formidable.
I think the Kyle Schwarber injury was quite the blow, but was mitigated by the fact that just about everyone on the bench could play in the outfield, plus the recall of Javier Baez and the contributions of Matt Szczur. The part where the Cubs could completely rest Ben Zobrist, Miguel Montero, and Jason Heyward (for all but a defensive inning) and still blow out the Rockies is very encouraging, as this really does suggest that the lineup is malleable and interchangeable to allow plenty of rest for all the position guys. Even with Schwarber out, Miguel Montero and David Ross are carrying the load well and allowing each other plenty of rest. The way that Joe Maddon manages the lineup, especially with Baez back and potentially penciled in for two or three starts a week, position players can look forward to regular breathers even if they say they want to play every day.
Friday’s game aside, the defense has been exceptional, and the pitchers very much appreciate not having to throw too many pitches. For example, with his typical awesomeness, Jake Arrieta hasn’t had to throw over 100 pitches yet this season (including Saturday), and that will save most of his bullets for the big games in October, a time when even the well-conditioned Arrieta admitted he was running out of gas for last year. Relief pitchers that are able to eat up innings effectively are also a gift, and the Cubs’ participating in multiple blowouts have rendered their innings low-stress and allowed the bullpen to remain rested in the early going. For example, Hector Rondon has had all of TWO save chances so far (he converted both), and has only had to pitch three innings to this point. Typically, Cubs fans expect Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks to bug out after five innings, but to date every Cubs starter has gone at least six innings to take the load off the bullpen. This means when Hammel and Hendricks (or even one of the top three guys) gets into trouble, the bullpen will not be burnt out.
The early returns and healthy amounts of rest days for everyone suggests that while the Cubs will likely not win 130 games this season, they’ll still remain healthy and productive enough to comfortably win the division. We don’t have to worry too much about the performance factor as they’ve shown us plenty to be happy about. We just need to keep positive thoughts going for their continued good health. And some extra good vibes for Schwarber’s recovery wouldn’t hurt, either.