One Game, Two Halves
The Offense: Last night in Cincinnati, the Chicago Cubs got on the board early and often. Reds starter Wade Miley began the outing by drilling Kris Bryant to put the leadoff man on, and proceeded to follow that at bat with walking Anthony Rizzo. Miley managed to sit the next two batters down before the floodgates opened. Willson Contreras was able to get ahold of a beautiful pitch and send it streaking down the foul line all the way to the left field corner for an RBI double while scoring Bryant and advancing Rizzo to third. Steven Souza Jr., making his first appearance since tearing his left ACL and LCL back in 2018 with Arizona, then belted a huge RBI double to nearly the exact same location while scoring both Rizzo and Contreras. David Bote then snuck in an RBI single on a sharp ground ball to right field in order to allow Souza Jr. to cross the plate safely. Chicago took the field and provided starter Jon Lester with a comfortable 4-0 lead to begin his outing.
The second inning saw more of the same from Chicago, as Miley began the inning by striking out Albert Almora Jr. before once again putting both Bryant and Rizzo on base again in the form of walks. This time it was Javier Baez that hit a line drive RBI double to left field bringing both Bryant and Rizzo home. The next two batters would go down quietly. The Cubs would later add runs in the form of an Anthony Rizzo home run in the sixth inning, his third of the year, and a David Bote RBI double in the seventh inning.
The Rotation Continues to Dominate: Jon Lester had some big shoes to fill after great outings by both Kyle Hendricks and Tyler Chatwood this past weekend, but he seemed as though he was in control from the first pitch despite an almost seventy-minute rain delay. It was a performance nowhere near as flashy as the two previously mentioned Cubs starters, but Lester, even at age 36, proved he is still a force to be reckoned with when on the mound. Lester threw for 76 pitches in total before being replaced between the fifth and sixth innings. After hitting Curt Casali in the fifth, Lester was visited by manager David Ross before getting Phillip Ervin to fly out to leftfield before ending the inning. It’s easy to sit and question the decision to remove Lester from this game, as he was in the process of a no-hitter before being pulled from the game. Lester finished with a final line of 5.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO.
The Bullpen Issues Have Not Gone Away: Cubs fans who tune in religiously to watch and listen to broadcasts will know that this should not come off as surprise. The Cubs bullpen continued its struggles last night in epic proportion. Ross managed to use seven pitchers following Lester’s departure in what was supposed to be a blowout at that point. Dan Winkler, Rowan Wick, Duane Underwood Jr., Ryan Tepera, James Norwood, Craig Kimbrel, and Jeremy Jeffress all saw action last night. The only one of these relievers to throw a full inning’s worth of work? Ryan Tepera. While the age issues of Underwood and Norwood (26 each) and their lack of MLB experience can serve as a temporary excuse, the most concerning of these performances was that of Kimbrel. The man with the 3-year, $46M contract that was brought in last summer to be the Cubs answer at the closer positon continues to look lost in a Cubbie uniform. Kimbrel mustered only 1 out before needing to be replaced by Jeffress, who came in to secure the save and allow the Cubs to claim their third win of the season. Kimbrel’s final stat line finished at 0.1 IP, 0 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 0 SO. This is VERY concerning if you’re a Cubs fan. While it’s only the fourth game of the season, Kimbrel’s contract was structured for him to be “the guy.” Dating back to his signing, so far we haven’t seen that from him.
- Kris Bryant has to get going at some point. Bryant’s 2020 struggles continue as the leadoff former MVP is currently an abysmal 1 for 17 (0.59 BA). Drawing walks is fine, especially with Rizzo hitting right behind him, but his 8 strikeouts have been ugly ones that could have been worked into a few more walks. It will be interesting to see how long Ross leaves Bryant in the leadoff spot before possibly turning to someone like Rizzo, who has had success in his few leadoff appearances.
- The postseason will hinge on the bullpen. It’s clear that the Cubs offense is special, and I believe that without fans in attendance for road games, and the lack of home field advantage around the league, the Cubs once again have the opportunity to remind the MLB that they feature one of the best lineups around. In a game where the Cubs led 7-1 at one point though, and to only win 8-7, that’s a red flag. We all know the Cubs are not always going to go out and score 8 or 9 runs a game like the have their last two games, and the bullpen is going to affect what this team’s final record is in a major way. The Cubs are going to find themselves in one run games like they did last night, but it will be earlier in the game, not at the very end where only one guy needs to come in and get two quick outs to save it. Guys with MLB experience like Ryan Tepera, Jeremy Jeffress, and Craig Kimbrel will be instrumental in that success.
- Rotation success like this early is huge. The Cubs have been spoiled over their first four games with some great starting pitching. Kyle Hendricks, Tyler Chatwood, and Jon Lester each had fantastic outings, with Yu Darvish struggling this past weekend. Together, the four starters have amassed 24.0 IP, 12 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 23 SO and a 1.50 rotational ERA, which is one of the best in baseball right now. Alec Mills will be the team’s fifth starter, and he will pitch tonight against Tyler Mahle from the Reds.
The Cubs (3-1) continue their series in Cincinnati with the Reds (1-3) tonight at 6:40pm EST.