Chicago Cubs: Noted improvements from the staff
For the season, the Cubs finished with the third-lowest earned run average in the game, fourth-best HR per 9 innings (a considerable feat considering they pitch half their games at the Friendly Confines) and the fourth-best ground ball percentage, all while leading the league in total innings pitched.
While the staff did not strike out as many hitters as we did in 2017, the group pitched better overall, dropping an unsightly 3.95 staff ERA in 2017 down to 3.65 in 2018. Keep in mind, Chatwood and Darvish combined for an earned run average north of 5.00. Without those two factored in, we’d be talking about a number eerily similar to the 3.15 or 3.36 the club put up in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Of particular note, however, is the fact Cubs pitchers did not get better at walking hitters; this could be considered a red flag, except for the fact that Chatwood guy led the league in walks while only pitching 103 innings.
Amazingly, the Cubs’ record in the second half was 37-13 when they scored two or more runs. Yes; a .740 winning percentage when they managed to squeak out just two tallies. They even managed to split a noteworthy series in Pittsburgh in August in which they scored just one run (on solo blasts) in four straight games thanks to outstanding pitching.
That just goes to show Hickey was not the problem down the stretch; nor were his pitchers. If he can continue to work with some of the young Triple-A bullpen shuttle type-guys and is given healthy, quality starters on the mound, he could look to improve upon a very good 2018 with an even better 2019. And, of course, giving them some runs might actually help their cause.
If Hickey really wants to impress Cubs fans in his sophomore campaign, he can find the magic elixir for keeping Yu Darvish healthy and Tyler Chatwood throwing strikes; if he’s able to turn those things around, the pitching might even be able to live up to the hype created prior to the 2018 season.