We can reasonably assume that the Chicago Cubs will be good enough to make the playoffs, and are once again the favorites to repeat as World Series champions, although that is a bit of a riskier bet. Nonetheless, as of Sunday night, the Cubs lead the National League Central Division by half a game over the mighty Cincinnati Reds, having won five of their six series to start the year with only the sweep at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates as an ugly blemish on the early season record. With not much to do for the rest of the night, it’s a good time for some random thoughts…
- Tommy La Stella was recently optioned to Iowa and has been performing well in his stint due West. The transaction was necessitated by the part where MLB only allows 25 players on the active roster this time of year, and this time Tommy was the odd man out. Eventually, I believe that he will return, since the Cubs are kind of low on players capable of playing middle infield (in particular, second base) in an emergency situation where not all of Addison Russell, Javier Baez, or Ben Zobrist are available. It’s hard to know whether the Cubs prefer to keep the bullpen at eight pitchers, or to perhaps dump Brian Duensing or option one of the relievers (possible Carl Edwards Jr) to make room for La Stella again. It’s still a fun problem to have when you have too many capable players to fit into 25 spots.
- Jason Heyward has been hitting the ball with a lot more authority to start the year, and his slugging percentage started to ramp up a bit this weekend. It seems the Reds are the cure to many ills, and although the Cubs dropped the series finale, Heyward drove in a run late in the game and represented one of the potential game-tying runs before the rally fizzled out. As many Cubs fans have fantasized about, if Heyward’s bat IS really back to even league average, then the rest of MLB is in a world of hurt.
- The pitching has not been as well off as we would like, with multiple former Cy Young winners/contenders scuffling a bit. Fortunately, they have been bailed out by the bullpen and the offense at different times, but the culprit appeared at first glance to be a drop in velocity. While some feel like this might be a manufactured excuse, I think I am buying in to the Cubs’ philosophy of easing the pitchers in, treating April like a second spring training. In this case, the pitchers won’t have “dead arm” or other issues, and their performance will be sustained and maximized in September, October, and early November where the bullets will be needed more critically. Jake Arrieta seemed to do alright velocity-wise in Saturday’s win, whereas John Lackey was maxing out around 92 mph while mostly dealing before the defense behind him stumbled and it all fell apart.
- As has been shown throughout history, it is impossible to go undefeated in a baseball season, and that will not be a possibility for this Cubs team either. But except for one blowout against the Pirates, the Cubs have been competitive in every single game, still bringing up the tying or go-ahead runs to the plate in each contest. You can’t count out these Cubs until they literally run out of outs in the game.
- The Cubs are still very young, just behind the Minnesota Twins for the youngest group of position players at the MLB level. So it’s to be expected that some of the batters (let’s say Javier Baez and Albert Almora, for instance) will have trouble with certain pitchers and situations. This season seems a perfect time to take advantage of a release of pressure (winning the World Series helps) while using in-game opportunities as teachable moments. Most of the youngsters already have one or two postseasons of experience, and so they know how to deal with pressure. Now they just have to hone their crafts and fulfill their immense potential. Might as well lost some early to get the kinks out of the way before the big games come along.
The Cubs travel to Pittsburgh on the next leg of their road trip. Let’s see if they can maintain their slim division lead, but there are over 140 games left, so everyone chill…for now.