Cubs Win Big, Hoerner Ideal Leadoff, Swanson Hits, Bellinger's Career Night, Hughes Returns, and Other Cubs Bullets

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Cubs Win Big, Hoerner Ideal Leadoff, Swanson Hits, Bellinger’s Career Night, Hughes Returns, and Other Cubs Bullets

Chicago Cubs

Let’s just go ahead and say that was the last cold snap before spring and summer. Can we all agree on that?

  • Like Michael said last night in the EBS, there were so many directions to go with a blowout win like that. Among the biggest were the performances by Hayden Wesneski and Patrick Wisdom, which are going to have to get their own discussions later today. The highlights:

  • Let me start with Nico Hoerner, who I feel like we haven’t talked about enough. Not only did Hoerner steal his league-leading 9th base last night, he also improved his line to .338/.394/.385/117 wRC+, which almost looks like the platonic ideal of a leadoff hitter. He’s not striking out (8.5%), but he is taking enough walks to float that OBP up near .400 (7.0%). Sure, the .373 BABIP is going to come down, but note that his xwOBA is actually slightly HIGHER than his actual wOBA thanks to some bad luck on the slugging side of things. Also note that his line drive rate is over 23%, so you would expect a higher BABIP.
  • Speaking of which, Dansby Swanson’s .512 BABIP is the highest in baseball. That is probably going to come down a little bit. But, hey, his 29.3% line drive rate is ridiculously good, so it’s not ENTIRELY pure luck. In his best years, the BABIP wound up around .350, which is extremely high, and maybe that’s what he’ll be looking at this year. What he needs next is for the power to show up, but I expect that will be coming in time.
  • One more on offense: how about Cody Bellinger? The guy is on some kind of heater, notching the first five-hit game of his career last night, and bringing his season slash line up to .310/.369/.517/135 wRC+ (you don’t even have to exclude that first series anymore!). Maybe the most impressive part is that his strikeout rate is just 13.8%, while his ISO is staying over .200. That’s just outstanding work for any hitter, let alone a guy who’s been through what he has the last two years. Super small sample fun? If he did what he’s done so far over a full season, he’d be a 6.0 WAR player this year.
  • The Chicago Cubs have the 6th best offense in baseball by wRC+ (113). They also rate as the 8th worst defense at FanGraphs. Just as everyone predicted, the 2023 Cubs have sacrificed defense to focus on offense. (I kid, of course, because I think the defensive value is going to climb considerably with more games, and the offense is probably going to stabilize somewhere closer to league average.)
  • Good to see Brandon Hughes get back out there after knee issues slowed his ramp up. He struck out one and allowed two hits in his scoreless inning of work, filling up the strike zone in the way you’d want to see in a blowout like that. Of the knee issue, he told the Sun-Times he found it challenging keeping his mechanics consistent while pitching in a big brace, so he switched to a sleeve brace that has been working a lot better for him. Back in the spring, the knee was swelling up every time he threw, and he’d have to get it drained (the issue dates back to a 2015 meniscus surgery, with periodic flare-ups). Sounds like it’s settled down now, and hopefully the sleeve can help keep it in a good place. For all the quality relievers the Cubs have, Hughes at his best is absolutely one of the top eight.
  • Been almost two years:
  • Willie Harris did his best:
  • Agreed on all of this:
  • I love Joe Maddon, and I will always love Joe Maddon, but this perspective simply does not track to the reality of 2019:
  • By 2019, that chicken was burnt to a crisp. We all wish the Cubs had won more, but it wasn’t going to happen if they tried to keep the band together much longer. Heck, most of the band – except Maddon – was still together in 2020 and 2021.
  • Brad Wieck is unlikely to return to the big league team this year following last season’s Tommy John surgery, but you never know. He’s started to throw, and at a minimum, you’d love to see him get to a place where he could have a normal Spring Training next year:

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.