The Chicago Cubs are in first place in the National League Central and are still considered to be one of the best teams in baseball, but a disturbing trend has emerged in the first month of their World Series title defense.
The team’s starting pitching, one of the biggest strengths of the team that won 103 games last season, has struggled in a big way early in games. They have already given up a total of 35 runs in the first inning of games, by far the highest total of any team in Major League Baseball this season.
That trend continued on Wednesday, as Jake Arrieta gave up a pair of first inning runs to the Philadelphia Phillies. Arrieta did manage to settle back down, giving up just one more run in six total innings of work, and it was enough for him to earn his fourth win of the season as the Cubs picked up a 5-4 victory.
The runs that the Cubs have allowed aren’t the only concerning factor in their first inning struggles. The Cubs have given up a staggering 90 total bases, nearly double what the next-closest team has surrendered in the opening frame of a game. They have also given up a league-high 11 first inning home runs, an on-base percentage against of .401, and an OPS against of 1.127, the worst in baseball by a wide margin.
When one contrasts those numbers to last season, the results are stunning. The Cubs allowed just 0.41 runs per first inning last season, the fourth-best total in all of baseball. They also allowed a paltry .280 on-base percentage against in first innings last season, the best number in baseball, and a total of 19 first inning home runs, a top-ten best total.
Even with those struggles, the Cubs still have plenty to be optimistic about. The team still has a one and a half game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers, and they also have the fourth-best run differential in the National League despite their horrific first inning struggles.
The Cubs also have shown an ability to bounce back even when their pitchers cough up early runs, as they're the sixth-best team in baseball at scoring runs in the first inning. The Cubs have averaged 0.70 runs per first inning this season, just behind the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians for a spot in the top five.
Offensively, the Cubs' numbers from first innings last season closely mirror their efforts this year, as they averaged 0.67 runs per first inning a year ago.