Off-Day Check-In, May 2: The State of the Chicago Cubs _________?

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Off-Day Check-In, May 2: The State of the Chicago Cubs _________?

Chicago Cubs

My fellow Cub fans. The state of the team is Rising.

The last time we did one of these state of the team type posts we landed on “promising,” and I think that was exactly right. The Cubs were coming off a three-game sweep of the Marlins and were about to go on an 8-3 run, during which the pitching staff held opponents to two runs or fewer seven times and the offense scored five or more runs seven times.

The Team Standings and Results

As you can imagine, the Cubs (16-12) are now a season-high four games over .500, and won all four of their series during this stretch (Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Mariners). And if it weren’t for the crazy-hot Cardinals, probably could’ve been a lot closer to first place.

NL Central Standings: 

  1. St. Louis Cardinals: 20-10
  2. Chicago Cubs: 16-12
  3. Milwaukee Brewers: 17-15
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates: 14-14
  5. Cincinnati Reds: 13-18

As we discussed this morning, the Cubs 2019 record through 28 games (16-12) is exactly identical to the record they had at this time last year and in 2017. Not bad.

But the really exciting thing is that they should probably look even better than this.

As of today (Thursday, May 2), the Cubs +38 run differential is the top mark in the National League and second best in all of baseball. Only the Tampa Bay Rays (+40) are sitting prettier, and they’ve played two more games than the Cubs so far.

Because of that, you’ll be pleased(?) to learn that the Cubs’ Pythagorean Record (which efforts to project a should-be record based on the number of runs scored and allowed) and their Base Runs record (another similar system which works towards the same goal, but uses other, underlying metrics to get there) actually have the Cubs with two more wins than they do right now.

And according to Base Runs – which dings the Cardinals down to 16-14 – the Cubs should actually be in first place! Obviously, the actual record matters above all, but that usually means good things going forward.

The Offense

The Cubs offense, meanwhile, has been absolutely fantastic so far this season. On average, they’re putting up 5.71 runs/game, which is again the best mark in the National League, and behind only the Rangers and Mariners in all of baseball.

The Cubs also have three players – Willson Contreras (181 wRC+, 5th), Javy Baez (157 wRC+, 18th), and Jason Heyward (155 wRC+, 21st) among the top-25 offensive contributors in baseball, while Anthony Rizzo (132 wRC+, 51st) just misses the top-50. In fact, among all their hitters with at least 70 plate appearances, only Kyle Schwarber (91 wRC+), Ben Zobrist (62 wRC+), and Albert Almora Jr. (56 wRC+) have been below average.

A few key points to consider:

  • The Cubs have the 8th most homers in baseball (44), despite fewer plate appearances than all but one team (the Twins) ahead of them in the rankings.
  • Their 10.7% walk rate ranks 4th.
  • Their .199 ISO ranks 6th.
  • And their 114 wRC+ is the fourth best mark in the league.

There’s no other way to put it, the Cubs offense has been hot.

Standout Performer in This Stretch: Anthony Rizzo

The Starting Rotation

… but the starting rotation has been sizzling, too!

Since our last check-in, the Cubs have added Jon Lester back into the mix, and over two starts, he’s looking like he never missed a beat: 12.0 IP, 5H, 1ER, 1BB, 13Ks. Indeed, his start against the Mariners last night was one of the single-best starts of his Cubs career. Indeed, Kyle Hendricks is really the only guy who’s yet to get going, as even Yu Darvish delivered a 6.0 IP, 1ER outing against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

As a whole, though, the Cubs rotation has the 9th best strikeout rate (23.9%), the 11th best batting average against (.232), and the 9th best ERA (3.66).

A few key points to consider:

  • Their 49.5% ground ball rate is second best in MLB.
  • Their soft contact rate (13.9%) is third worst in baseball.
  • Their hard contact (38.7%, 20th) rate and their walk rate (8.9%, 12th) leave room for improvement.

As you can see by that last bullet, the rotation hasn’t been perfect. But they have been getting the job done and leaving their team in a position to win. With Jon Lester, Jose Quintana, and Cole Hamels all rolling, and with Yu Darvish starting to look stronger, they’re just one Kyle Hendricks away from a tip-top rotation.

Standout Performer: Jon Lester

The Bullpen

The bullpen is a much tougher nut to crack. Because on the surface, there’s a lot to like. Their collective 25.5% strikeout rate ranks among the top-10, but their 14.3% walk rate is the worst in baseball. Meanwhile, their 4.22 ERA is right in the middle of the pack, but has actually been the best mark in baseball since the first week in April.

And when you drill down into some of the particulars, there’s actually a lot to really like:

  • The group’s 53.8% ground ball rate is not only the best in baseball, it beats the second best team (Yankees, 48.7%) by over 5 percentage points.
  • But not unlike the starting rotation, they’re allowing too much hard contact (37.3%), giving up too many walks, and could stand to get a little more soft contact (16.5%), which would probably be a much bigger problem if it weren’t for the crazy amount of ground balls.

Individually, over the past two weeks, we’ve seen a lot of really great performances from Dillon Maples (2.2 IP, 6 K, 0 ER), Tyler Chatwood (2.1 IP, 0 ER), Brandon Kintzler (5.0 IP, 1 ER), Pedro Strop (4.2 IP, 1 ER), and Brad Brach (4.2 IP, 1 ER). But I still can’t bring myself to believe that this group – for however productive they’ve been – will continue being this good the rest of the season. And with Brandon Morrow no closer to coming back, I still have long-term questions the rest of the way.

Standout Performer: Steve Cishek.

Up Next

The Cubs will now return home for a ten-game homestand, including three against the first place Cardinals upfront, and three more against the Brewers at the tail-end. If they want to make some meaningful progress in the division, this is the perfect time to do it. Go Cubs.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami is the butler to a wealthy werewolf off the coast of Wales and a writer at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter at @Michael_Cerami