To say that the first quarter of the Chicago Cubs’ march through the regular season has been eventful would be an understatement.
They started out the year as the hottest team in baseball, getting off to their best start since 1907 and jumping out to a significant lead in the National League Central. That hot start, buoyed by players like Dexter Fowler and Jake Arrieta, also had some serious speedbumps, as injuries to Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward have tested the team’s depth and mettle during the opening stretch of the campaign.
Now, with the second quarter set to begin in earnest, we’re taking a look back at how the Cubs have fared thus far, and what strengths and weaknesses fans should keep an eye on as the team moves forward.
Where They Stand:
The Cubs currently have a 29-13 record, which is the best mark in baseball. They have a six game lead in the division over the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Fangraphs is projecting the team to be the lone 100-game winner in baseball this year, with a 98.5 percent chance of making the postseason.
Despite recent struggles, the Cubs have the league’s best run differential by a wide margin, as they’ve outscored their opponents by 110 runs so far this season.
The Cubs made some big moves in the offseason, bringing aboard Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist to bolster their offense, and while Heyward has been hit or miss thus far, Zobrist has been a huge catalyst for the team’s offense. Currently in the top 10 in baseball for Offensive Wins Above Replacement, Zobrist’s penchant for clutch hitting and solid contact has made the Cubs’ lineup scarier than initially anticipated.
Dexter Fowler has also played a huge role in the team’s success at the plate. So far this season he’s sporting a .316 batting average and a .435 on-base percentage, with 21 RBI and 81 total bases to his credit. He’s also tied for the team lead in runs scored, having touched home plate 30 times in 41 games played.
The Cubs’ power bats are also beginning to come to life, as Kris Bryant has recently found his power stroke and Anthony Rizzo continues to drive the ball with authority despite his .240 batting average.
The team could really use more production out of Heyward, who’s hitting just .225, but at least part of that can be blamed on bad luck, as his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is just .284, 45 points lower than the number he had last year with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cubs’ defense, which was a question mark last season, is rounding into form nicely. Fowler continues to play a solid center field, while Heyward has certainly brought his glove to the party for the Cubs, as he has continued to be one of the best defensive right fielders in all of baseball.
On the infield, the Cubs have continued to get solid production out of Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo, and things have been interesting at third base. Bryant has done a nice job of working on his game, although he still does have errant throws at times and isn’t the surest handed defender. Javier Baez has proven to be a jack of all trades in the infield, making several spectacular plays and showing why Joe Maddon views him as this team’s Swiss Army Knife.
Even the catcher’s position has been solid, with David Ross having an incredible year in terms of throwing out baserunners and controlling the running game of opposing teams. Miguel Montero is decent behind the dish, but Ross has been off to a really good start.
The big question mark for this team remains left field. Bryant is a capable defender, and Matt Szczur can play out there as well, but when Jorge Soler is in that position, all bets are off, and the Cubs do have one weak spot in their lineup to worry about there.
The Cubs’ starting rotation has been, in a word, spectacular so far this season. The team had their starting pitcher go at least five innings in the first 40 games of the regular season (that streak ended on Saturday when Jon Lester was unable to get to that mark), and their statistics certainly illustrate that dominance.
Arrieta has been off to a ludicrous start, sporting a 1.29 ERA and racking up an 8-0 record in his first nine starts. He’s allowed just nine earned runs in 63 innings of work, continuing the dominance that he displayed during the second half of last season.
The Cubs have two more starters who are in the top 10 in the National League in terms of ERA, with Lester ranked ninth at 2.60, and Jason Hammel, who is off to an excellent start with a 2.31 ERA in eight starts for the Cubs.
John Lackey got off to a bit of a sluggish start for the Cubs, but as he’s regained command of his fastball, his numbers have been steadily rising. He now has a 3.31 ERA for the Cubs this season, and his WHIP is down to an impressive 0.98 on the campaign.
In terms of the team’s bullpen, there’s been plenty to be impressed by from this team. Hector Rondon has 24 strikeouts and just two walks in 14 innings of work this season, and his 1.26 ERA is actually .03 runs better than Arrieta’s.
Adam Warren has also been a revelation for the Cubs, with a 1.72 ERA and 14 strikeouts thus far. He does have 10 walks, but for the most part his control has been solid and he has gotten the job done when necessary.
There are a few pitchers that could stand to improve a bit, however. Trevor Cahill has been solid for the most part, but his 1.38 WHIP and 14 walks in 21 innings will have to be addressed. Clayton Richard is in a similar boat, as he’s the only player on the Cubs’ pitching staff to have a negative WAR so far this season. His 5.40 ERA has to improve if he’s going to continue to be a key part of their bullpen.