The schedule gets a lot less kind after this week, so (1) the Cubs need to bank these Pirates wins while they can, and (2) the Cubs will need to play some great baseball on the road against some good teams on into June. For now, the Cubs are 1.5 back of the Cardinals.
• Speaking of the good stretch lately, the Cubs are not only 13-7 in their last 20 (the month of May), every single one of the losses was by a single run:
The Cubs have gone 20 games in a row without losing a game by multiple runs for the first time since 1935.
Their last multi-run loss came to the Reds on April 30 by a score of 8-6.
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) May 24, 2021
• Some people incorrectly attribute one-run losses to a poor bullpen, when it’s far more likely that you just have a good team that keeps you close in games – runs scored late to try to come back, and a bullpen that helps hold the line while you try to come back. Case in point, over this stretch in May, the Cubs’ bullpen has the second best ERA in baseball (1.89, behind only the Padres at 1.75), and the best slash line against (.185/.278/.251). By FIP, the bullpen has been the second best (2.68; Marlins at 2.46), and by xFIP, they have been best by a wide margin (3.20). The spread between their K rate (31.1%) and BB rate (8.9%) is also the largest in baseball by far. The Cubs have likely had the best bullpen in all of baseball this month.
• To that end, for a week, the entire Cubs’ bullpen has basically been perfect:
The bullpen was absolutely dominant this week.
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 24, 2021
• Not bad for a bunch of failed starters.
• The picture there got me poking around Andrew Chafin’s success this year (because I’ve already been all over Ryan Tepera lately, and also Tommy Nance’s debut week). I knew Chafin had been getting great results, but I wondered: how’s he actually doing? Turns out, he has been much less strikeout-oriented than his best years in the past, and has been more about getting extremely crummy contact. His hard contact rate (23.6%) would be the lowest of his career, his groundball rate (57.4%) would be the second highest, and his line drive rate (5.6%) is currently laughable. The results appear to be driven by significant changes in the shape of his slider (it now has extreme drop, and extreme(ly limited) lateral movement), and a significant uptick in his sinker usage. He’s still getting a decent clip of strikeouts (24.1%), so you add it all up, and he’s near the league leaders in every “expected” category:
• Not that you needed love to know that Craig Kimbrel was also quite good in the Cubs’ bullpen, but more visual reminders of how you, too, can be super elite if you have two plus-plus pitches that you can almost perfectly tunnel together out of of an atypical arm slot and release point:
Craig Kimbrel, Fastball and Knuckle Curve, Overlay with Tails. pic.twitter.com/n8wdxm6Htw
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 24, 2021
• ANNNNND speaking of Chafin and Kimbrel, who are primarily the Cubs’ 8th and 9th inning guys (though others get in there, obviously, depending on game circumstances): per Codify, the Cubs have allowed a total of 15 runs in the 8th and 9th innings combined this season. The MLB average is more than 36.
• The pitchers, themselves, deserve the bulk of the credit. And the organization’s acquisition and development arms deserve a whole lot, too. But let’s not also forget the manager who is in charge of pushing the bullpen buttons – he deserves some of the credit, too:
The last time the Cubs were on Sunday Night Baseball, the arrow seemed to be pointing down. But since that game, David Ross has been pushing all the right buttons and has helped lead them to a strong May after taking two of three from STL over the weekend. https://t.co/BBg0JoG9s3
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) May 24, 2021
• Absolutely bonkers performance. An Ultra Maddux:
𝐌𝐚𝐲 𝟐𝟒, 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟏… ⚾️
Pitcher Jon Lieber only needed 𝟳𝟴 𝗽𝗶𝘁𝗰𝗵𝗲𝘀 to throw a complete game, 1-hit shutout! Lieber lead the Cubs to a 3-0 win over the Reds. 😲 pic.twitter.com/GdpKauyOJu
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) May 24, 2021
• Cardinals righty Miles Mikolas finally returned from his long, forearm-related absence to pitch a few innings against the Cubs before he had to depart. Now it’s time to go see Dr. James Andrews, and you wonder if this is when the surgery comes. The Cardinals are already without starter Dakota Hudson, who went under the knife late last year.
• This actually is both funny and insightful (and, hey, thanks for beating the Cardinals):
Thought this was a sharp observation from Lynn on the way he’s perceived:
“When you're coming up in the game, it's 'Oh, he's got a bad attitude,' this and that. And when you get older and start pitching better, 'He's a bulldog.’"
— James Fegan (@JRFegan) May 25, 2021
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• I think Fergie has an answer:
— Fergie Jenkins (@fergieajenkins) May 24, 2021