Off-Day Check-In, May 30: The State of the Chicago Cubs _________?

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Off-Day Check-In, May 30: The State of the Chicago Cubs _________?

Chicago Cubs

My fellow Cub fans. The state of the team is holding the line.

The last time we did one of these state of the team type posts we landed on rising and that was – for a long time – just about perfect. Even if it didn’t last. The Cubs had just won four games in a row and were about to win three straight against the Cardinals, three of four against the Marlins, and two of three against the Brewers. It was basically peak-Cubs hotness. But since then, things have gone downhill a little bit.

The Cubs won only one of the five series that followed that hot streak, splitting a four-gamer with the Phillies, dropping two series to the Reds, and one to the Astros. The offense has looked mostly fine during this stretch, but the pitching – both starting and relief – has been rough and it has dragged the team down with it.

The Team Standings and Results

Fortunately, the rest of the NL Central has been pretty terrible, too (especially the Cardinals), and because of that, the Cubs have been able to keep their position atop the division, with a 1.0 game lead over the Brewers (albeit with the same number of wins).

NL Central Standings: 

  1. Chicago Cubs (31-23): First Place
  2. Milwaukee Brewers (31-25): 1.0 GB
  3. Pittsburgh Pirates (27-27): 4.0 GB
  4. St. Louis Cardinals (27-28): 4.5 GB
  5. Cincinnati Reds (26-30): 6.0 GB

For what it’s worth, this 31-23 record is exactly identical to the record the Cubs posted last season, and … actually, I’ll just let my tweet explain the rest:

Arguably, they should be doing even better.

As of today (Thursday, May 30th), the Cubs’ +51 run differential is second best in the National League (behind only the Dodgers at +80) and sixth best in baseball.

Their 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) each believe the Cubs should have eeked out one more win so far, which obviously stinks a little bit, but otherwise suggests they’ve pretty much gotten what they’ve earned.

The Offense

The Cubs offense continues to churn along, at a solid 5.33 runs/game, which is once again second only to the Dodgers in the NL, and ranks 6th overall in baseball. But I’d say I’ve noticed that while things look darn-near excellent when everyone is healthy and in the lineup, the intermittent absences of guys like Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, etc. due to injury makes the group look considerably worse (like, disproportionately so), as a whole. Obviously, losing one of your main guys is always going to be tough, but the lineup just seems to struggle to string anything together when those guys are out.

With that said, Anthony Rizzo (159 wRC+, 11th), Kris Bryant (155 wRC+, 14th), Willson Contreras (152 wRC+, 15th) and Javy Baez (132 wRC+, 29th) remain among the top-30 hitters in baseball. With simple math, you’d expect each team to have exactly one player in the top-30, so the Cubs are obviously well-ahead of the game here. In fact, only the Astros (4) can match that number, and only the Mets (3) come close. The Angels, Dodgers, Nationals, and Astros are each represented by two players in the top-30, but, again that means the Cubs are the clear leader.

More broadly, this month has seen the rise of Addison Russell, David Bote, Albert Almora Jr., and Kyle Schwarber. All of those guys have been hitting the ball a lot better lately. Almora’s season-long numbers haven’t caught up yet (86 wRC+) and Daniel Descalso has been rough (54), but every other Cubs hitter with at least 50 plate appearances has been at least average this season.

A few key points:

  • The Cubs 92 home runs is tied for the most in the National League and ranks fourth overall in MLB.
  • The team’s 10.8% walk rate leads the league, while their 23.2% strikeout rate is actually in the top-half (in the good way).
  • Their .346 OBP is third best in MLB.
  • Their 112 wRC+ is 4th best in MLB.
  • Their hard and soft contact hasn’t been great, and their ground ball rate is far too high (5th highest). So that’s something to watch out for.

Notable Performer: Kyle Schwarber

Although several other Cubs have performed better than he has – and a few others have stepped up big-time – he has absolutely locked down the leadoff role when no one else could, posting a .367 OBP and 110 wRC+ since the last off-day. That includes a 20.2% walk rate and 6 HRs.

The Starting Rotation

But this is where much of the fun ends.

After a blistering hot streak, wherein Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana both posted the best three-game stretches of their careers and Cole Hamels and Jon Lester we’re humming along, things fell apart a bit.

Hamels made two good starts in a row, but then has had three-straight clunkers (11 ER in 13.0 IP) and Jon Lester has matched him (15 ER in 14 IP). Kyle Hendricks has had a couple solid games in a row – including a great one last night – but laid a bit of a stinker in Washington. And Jose Quintana is coming off his second-worst start of the year (5 ER in 5.1 IP). Meanwhile, Yu Darvish continues to tease us with baby steps forward, followed by toddler steps back. So, really, everything has been – at best – just so-so.

A few key points to consider:

  • Cubs starters have thrown 305.0 innings this season (9th most in MLB), despite playing fewer games (54) than all but one team ahead of them (Twins, also 54).
  • Their 47.7% ground ball rate is second best in MLB.
  • Their 3.90 ERA remains among the top-10 in MLB.

Standout Performer: Kyle Hendricks

The Bullpen

After a nice stretch wherein the bullpen really turned up and locked down some games, things have fallen apart a bit again. There’s been a constant shuffle at the back-end of the bullpen, Steve Cishek has somehow found his way into the 9th inning on a regular basis (hey – he’s the best option), and Tyler Chatwood is somehow the most exciting revelation.

I still believe Cishek, Brad Brach, and Branton Kintzler – the Cubs top-three right now – have a place in this bullpen long-term, but I am longing for the return of Pedro Strop and – knock on wood – Brandon Morrow … let alone some outside additions.

  • For the season, the Cubs’ 0.5 bullpen WAR ranks 19th.
  • SOMEHOW their 3.95 ERA ranks 7th.
  • 12.6% walk rate is worst in MLB.
  • 23.4% strikeout rate is just outside the bottom-10.
  • 11 blown saves is 2nd-most in MLB.

If I had to point to one weakness on this team, I think it’s pretty obviously the Cubs’ bullpen. There’s a lot of raw talent in there – especially with guys like Carl Edwards Jr. and Dillon Maples – but so much of it comes with so much risk. If it was’t for Steve Cishek, this group would be in a TON of trouble.

Standout Performer: Steve Cishek.

Up Next

The Cubs are staying on the road for three games in St. Louis, before returning home for seven straight at Wrigley Field. That homestand begins with a makeup game against the Angels, followed by three against the Rockies, and closes with three more against the Cardinals. Because of that makeup, the Cubs’ next off-day isn’t until June 17th – that’s 17-straight games. Oof. See ya on the other side of it.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami