Chicago Cubs News

Chicago Cubs: Up to old tricks

jfrancis
Aug 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Teammates celebrate with Chicago Cubs pinch hitter Matt Szczur (center) after he scored the game winning run against the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. Cubs won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 3, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Teammates celebrate with Chicago Cubs pinch hitter Matt Szczur (center) after he scored the game winning run against the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. Cubs won 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports /
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This has been an exciting week for the Chicago Cubs with three one-run wins, including two thrilling walk-offs.

It’s refreshing to watch the Chicago Cubs play since the All-Star Break. We all recall the struggles the team faced before the break, with the team going winning only six of their last 21 games. On June 19, the Cubs were 27 games above .500 and leading the NL Central by double digits. But, going into the break, the team was only 18 games above .500 with their lead down to seven games.

During impressive start to the season, the pitching staff dominated. At one point, all five starters possessed ERAs below 3.00. The bullpen performed well most of the time, but then times we, as fans, would reach for the Tums. Overall, however, the team has the best ERA and BAA in the entirety of the MLB. Couple that with an offense that scored six runs a game and a recipe for success was achieved.

Staggering, to me,  was the defensive play. The infielders were showing range and accuracy. The outfield was keeping balls in front of them and making good throws. Jason Heyward ran into walls in order to make catches that could otherwise lead to extra bases. Statistically, the Chicago Cubs had the best defense in the MLB.

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Best pitching, best defense, solid hitting led to a great start to the season.

Well, the Cubs are up to their old tricks. The team has posted a 13-6 record since returning from the All-Star Break. While some changes occurred to the roster, notably in the bullpen, the major players remain the same. Dexter Fowler provides a spark off the top and Kyle Hendricks leads the team in terms of pitching. And, a team that was 11-15 in one-run games is 4-1 in those games during this 19 games streak.

There is one similarity between the 21 games slump before the break to this 19 game streak after the break: the Cubs are scoring 4.5 runs per game.

That’s right. The offense is still not performing at the standard we noticed at the beginning of the season. Whether it is pitching improving over the season or bats becoming quiet, the runs are not coming across the plate at the same rate. It is difficult to keep up such potent scoring over a 162 game span. During this post All-Star game streak, the pitching and defense are leading the way.

Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

When looking at the statics for the entire season, the Chicago Cubs pitching staff is the best in the league. They were to start the season, they stumbled going into July, and have been great since the break. During the 19-game span, the entire pitching staff has an ERA of 2.52 and a .213 BAA. That is still best in the MLB in both categories and is consistent with the team’s performance earlier in the season. The additions of Aroldis Chapman, Mike Montgomery, and Joe Smith to the bullpen serve as major upgrades to the team. Now, the starters can go six innings before Cubs Manager Joe Maddon brings in Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon, and Chapman. The pitching staff is scary.

Scary good.

It is the second part of the phrase “pitch and catch” in which the team excels. The Chicago Cubs’ defensive efficiency rating (the percentage of balls in play are converted into outs) is .726, the best in the majors. Even though the Cubs have used 42 different players as fielders, and committing 63 errors, they are still only giving up a league-lowest 3.47 runs per game.

Next: The Swagger is coming back!

When you dig deeper into the stats, it is easy to see that this is a team effort. In terms have WAR, the Chicago Cubs not only lead the majors with a 17.1 total, they are top-ten in pitching (5.0, counting pitching and batting combined), starting pitching (5.6), first base (3.1, #1 in MLB), second base (1.6), third base (2.4), short (1.5), left field (1.1), center field (2.1), right field (0.7), and pinch-hitting (0.2). Overall, the Cubs have the third best outfield as well. Compare that to 2015 when the outfield was ranked 23rd in WAR, even when the team as a whole was fifth.

Now, let us not get ahead of ourselves. Six seasons have passed since the last team that was tops in the majors in WAR also won the World Series. That was the 2010 San Francisco Giants. But that year, they also lead all of baseball in ERA and BAA. Could this be a repeat of that season? We will just have to watch.

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