With four straight series losses, the Chicago Cubs have not been trending in the right direction these last couple weeks.
But maybe Marcus Stroman has? After bottoming out against the Rockies (4.0 IP, 5ER) and Rays (4.1 IP, 7ER), Stroman has rattled off back-to-back quality starts on the road against the Braves and Brewers.
Yesterday, he played the role of Series Sweep Stopper on his birthday, helping the Cubs avoid the sweep with a dominant start in Milwaukee: 7.0 IP, 2H, 1BB, 5Ks, 9 groundouts, 2 double-plays.
Barely any hits, just one free pass, a ton of groundballs (62.5%), and five strikeouts sprinkled in for good measure … all over 7.0 IP? Yep. That’ll do it. That’s a very Marcus Stroman final line. And I didn’t even mention how he retired the last 14 batters he faced! It was just an excellent game.
In fact, by Game Score (80) that was the best start of Stroman’s season — by a mile – and tied for the sixth best start of his entire career!
Naturally, his team has taken notice. Here’s catcher Yan Gomes on the rebound Stroman taken this season:
Yan Gomes on Marcus Stroman's first win as a Cub. pic.twitter.com/ZgG3Yb6zv9
— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) May 1, 2022
“We’re starting to see what Stroman is,” Cubs catcher Yan Gomes said. “That guy that’s full of confidence on the mound. That outing kind of showed it.”
And David Ross with an explanation for the early struggles: “I really thought he found his rhythm his last start,” said Ross, who attributed some of the earlier struggles to the short spring training after MLB’s lockout. “One of those early starts that didn’t go quite like he wanted probably’s in spring training, maybe two of those.”
Sure, maybe it was about finding his rhythm. Though having signed before the lockout, Stroman did have plenty of time to get settled and prepare for the season (at least relative to some other free agent starting pitchers). And in classic Stroman fashion, he threw that idea to the side, taking full responsibility for his bad performances: “I don’t make excuses, man. I just didn’t pitch good those starts.”
Instead, I wonder if Jordan Bastian nailed a bigger issue: the pitch mix. Yesterday, Stroman threw his slider (41.1%) more often than his sinker (37.8%), which is unusual for him, and he threw both more than their season average.
Marcus Stroman threw more sliders (37) than sinkers (34) today vs. Brewers. Splitter checked in 3rd (9 times). It's first time he's led with the SL in '22. That happened in three starts in '21.
Here's a look at Stroman's sinker-slider-splitter use in first four starts with Cubs. pic.twitter.com/UunlH1LniW
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) May 1, 2022
Bastian got into the thinking a bit right here with some quotes from Yan Gomes. In short, he and Stroman realized some Brewers batters were taking sliders for strikes, so they started to lean on what was working. “It was a fun game to call,” Gomes said. “You could just like flick a number and it was a competitive pitch at all times.”
Statcast has 9 called strikes on his slider (plus three whiffs). Stroman’s sinker also generated 13 whiffs, with 12 called strikes.