Chicago Cubs: Starting rotation among baseball’s worst to start season

jfrancis
Apr 4, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) walks off the field after the top of the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 4, 2017; St. Louis, MO, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jake Arrieta (49) walks off the field after the top of the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /
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Three weeks into the season and the Chicago Cubs lead the NL Central. However, their starting pitching is among the worst in baseball.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Thus starts the Charles Dickens class The Tale of Two Cites. The same phrase can be said for the start of the season for the Chicago Cubs rotation. Last year’s rotation was the best in baseball over the course of the season. This year, not so much.

Coming into play this week, the Cubs pitching staff sits in the middle of the pack concerning team ERA in all of baseball. As a matter of fact, they are right at average with a 3.90 ERA. The team has allowed 71 earned runs and 80 runs total. There are two major concerns? Home runs and getting through the first inning.

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Rough start

Fact: The Chicago Cubs have allowed the second most first-inning runs in Major League baseball. No other items to add to that. Not on a Tuesday. Or in stadiums with turf instead of grass. Period. All of baseball. Only the Washington Nationals allow more.

Another fact: The starting rotation as allowed the second-most home runs in the first inning, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Teams are batting .308 against Cubs’ starters in the first inning. Of the 80 total runs allowed by the pitching staff, 18 scored in the first inning. That is one run per game. That may not sound like much, but starting off a game from behind is not ideal.

The good news? Twelve of the 18 runs scored in the last six games. And, overall, the Cubs are 6 and 3 in the games in which they allowed their opponent to score in the first. With the offense starting to come together, getting behind is not a major concern. At least not against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers. But, playing the teams that are predicted to be playoff contenders will be more of a challenge when trailing early.

Home Run Derby

Another stat for concern? The opponents of the Chicago Cubs have hit 24 home runs. That is eighth most in the baseball, and a rate of 1.33 per game. Expand that over a full season, that comes to 216 home runs. Compare that to 163 allowed last season, sixth best in baseball.

The formula is simple: score runs and don’t allow teams to score as much as you. While the Cubs are winning and able to come from behind, it cannot be expected to be that way all year. Right now, the starting rotation is struggling in the first inning. And, they are giving up approximately one home (16 of 24 allowed) run per game as a rotation.

Two pitchers account for most of the concern. Kyle Hendricks does not appear to be the same pitcher that we enjoyed in 2016. With an ERA of 6.18 and allowing four home runs is uncharacteristic. As is the 3.88 ERA and five long balls in Jake Arrieta‘s stat line. However, Arrieta has three wins, while Hendricks in 1-1.

Next: Should John Lackey be upset or embarrassed by his performance?

While there are good signs from the team, playing from behind isn’t going to be a formula for success. Even when the team leads, the home run brings their opponent back. Corrections must be made, or else the team will struggle.

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