Cubs: Jekyll and Hyde season confounds fans and baseball gurus
By Paul Seifert
The 2021 Cubs on-again-off-again season is perhaps the most bizarre in the team’s history. This season can go either way at this point.
Here’s how it breaks down week by week: 4-3; 2-5; 4-3; 2-5. They are 3-0 to start week five.
In one span, the North Siders lost three of four to Pirates, two of three to the Brewers and two of three to Braves. Then they swept the Mets. They have lost to back of the rotation starters and won against top-tier guys. They pound Huascar Ynoa one game and then can’t hit him the next.
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The Cubs pound out 12, 13, 15, and 16 runs, then go five days scoring just nine total. They can barely eke out a 3-3 record so far against the Pirates then sweep the Dodgers, besting their top three pitchers.
What is normal is that their Runs Scored/Runs Against Pythagorean of 146/152 says they should be 15-16 and true to the norm there they are at 15-16.
What’s working, and not, with the hitting is part of the up and down season
Kris Bryant is working, that’s for sure. Healthy and confident, he’s laying off sweeping sliders and hammering fastballs. With a slash of .308/.395/.673 and 1.068 OPS, Bryant is looking like his 2015-16 self, without all the Ks.
What is also working is the bench. Matt Duffy, Jake Marisnick and Eric Sogard are the best three guys off the bench since the 2016 Cubs trio of Tommy LaStella, Chris Coghlan, and Albert Almora.
A lot is not working. Not surprisingly Jason Heyward is not working. After an offseason of talking like his life depended on 2021, Heyward is slashing a miserable .188/.250/.344 with a .594 OPS. Only Joc Pederson is worse.
In addition, Anthony Rizzo hasn’t warmed up yet and Willson Contreras started hot but has cooled of late. I expect them to get it going soon. But overall the Cubs are and fifth in MLB in walks, sixth in runs scored, and ninth in slugging and OPS. Not bad given the inconsistency at the plate. They are also second in stolen bases.
Cubs: All that inconsistency wouldn’t be a factor if the pitching was consistent, but it too is sporadically good and bad.
We all suspected that without Yu Darvish the starting rotation would be, well, suspect. We haven’t been disappointed on that point. Every Cubs starter is below league average in ERA+ and that’s just the half of it.
Cubs starters are so inconsistent that the bullpen has been forced to pick up far too much slack, which might explain why three of them are the IL right now. Alec Mills has 21 innings pitched, which just a shade less than Zach Davies. I think Mills is the only guy in MLB who has appeared as both a starter and a closer.
Only eight times have Cubs starters reached the six-inning mark, Arrieta and Hendricks three times, Alzolay and Williams once each. The Cubs rotation is averaging about four innings per start. That’s just not going to get it done over a 162-game season.
The Cubs sit balanced between a season of success or a descent into down and out baseball. If the hitting can spell the weak rotation then that might allow starters to go a little deeper and take some pressure off the bullpen. It’s anyone’s guess where this season goes at this point.