With three weeks under our belts, it’s hard to summarize the early season woes of the Chicago Cubs.
The bullpen has been shaky, at best, Ricky Renteria’s matchup-based lineups are driving fans mad at the Friendly Confines, the club’s offense can’t score runs consistently – especially when Jeff Samardzija is on the mound and Jose Veras has been a complete and utter failure.
Did I hit it all?
Oh, right. The Cubs are also the only team in all of Major League Baseball that is yet to win a series. Yes, even the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros have accomplished that feat, so that really puts things in perspective for you.
Chicago ranks as the third-worst team in terms of losses (14), trailing only the Arizona Diamondbacks (18) and the Astros (16). Looking at the numbers, though, one would think this team would be closer to the .500 mark – which, by all accounts, it certainly should be.
The club’s pitching staff ranks 16th in Major League Baseball in terms of ERA (3.82) and 13th in terms of opponents’ batting average (.249), but Cubs’ relievers have converted just a third of save opportunities (2-for-6). Had those games been closed out, this team would be in a much better position, heading into the weekend with a 11-10 mark, rather than its current record of 7-14.
The struggles of a handful of pitchers, including the recently-demoted Blake Parker (who admittedly saw limited action), have been the cause of most of the staff’s troubles. Veras, as noted by staff writer Nicholas Blazek last night, has posted an astronomical 15.88 ERA in 5 2/3 innings of work, blowing a pair of saves and issuing 10 walks in that span. But the struggles of the staff run deeper than Veras.
Carlos Villanueva, who has worn many hats this season for manager Ricky Renteria, has had a rough start to the season this year, allowing 29 hits in just 14 innings of work, in which opponents have pounded the ball to the rate of a .403 clip. He’s started a handful of games, as well as worked in relief early on, but the results have been anything but desirable.
Edwin Jackson is pitching, well, like Edwin Jackson. He has a 5.02 ERA through the season’s first three weeks, and opponents are hitting just a tick under .300 against him. He’s failed to locate his pitches consistently, and without fail, seems to run into one troublesome inning in every outing. He’s allowed 32 hits in 28 2/3 innings and with two seasons after 2014 left on his four-year, $52 million deal, it’s a legitimate question to ask what his role will be moving forward.
On the offensive side of things, the club just can’t hit in clutch situations.
Entering play on Friday, the Cubs are hitting just .209 with runners in scoring position – which ranks as the fourth-worst mark among big league clubs. Out of the Chicago hitters with at least ten games under their belts this season, just two have hit over .300 – Anthony Rizzo and Welington Castillo.
Rizzo has been a bright spot for the club’s offense so far, hitting a solid .316/.424/.487 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. His three home runs trail only rookie Mike Olt, who leads the club with four long balls in limited action. Although he leads the team in home runs, his slash line of .184/.234/.449 is indicative of his struggles to make consistent contact when in the lineup.
Starlin Castro has come back to earth after a hot start, but is still hitting a respectable .274 with 9 RBIs early on. His defense, per usual, is a major concern moving forward, as he leads the team with three errors. However, if he can maintain his solid offensive contributions, the club will learn to live with the shaky defense, as he’s also prone to making outstanding plays, as well, leading one to wonder how both outcomes are so prevalent.
As we head into the last week of April, the Cubs, in all honesty, aren’t that far from being at least competitive. What is comes down to is each part has to play his role in the machine. Starting pitching needs to get through at least five innings on a regular basis, the team needs to start hitting in clutch situations and the bullpen needs to take things one outing at a time.
If these things don’t happen, don’t expect a series win anytime soon.