Amidst all of the contract extension turmoil, offseason jettisoning, and lack of consistent play, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in the middle of a five game winning streak, figuring out how to win games without hitting home runs and without relying on their big guns to carry the load.
With a record of 17-17, the Cubs find themselves in a large group of teams who haven’t figured out exactly what they are or who they’ll become in this strange 2021 season. They have essentially the same record as the presumptive favorites in the National League, the Padres and Dodgers, and a better record than the Braves and Marlins. In fact, they just swept the defending champion Dodgers at Wrigley, despite having to face Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer and Walker Buehler.
Let’s be frank here; even a month into the season, no one knows what this Cubs team is or will be. Half the time, they seem to be running out four or five guys we had barely heard of before this offseason.
We still may not know these Cubs are, but holy cow are they intriguing
So far this season, they have been led by just two elite seasonal performances: Kris Bryant on offense (and all over the field) and Craig Kimbrel (who is back to vintage Kimbrel status) in the back end of the bullpen. After those two guys, the next best seasonal performance is from a guy who didn’t even start the season in Chicago, wasn’t called up until April 23, and is now on the IL after a collision with Ian Happ that landed him on the same list. Won’t it be nice to get Nico Hoerner back?
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Staff ace Kyle Hendricks has been very un-professorial in more than half of his starts (including another rough first inning today), Jake Arrieta is on the IL after a rough outing, and the rest of the staff has been inconsistent at best. The offense, outside of Bryant and the sometimes-maddening Javier Baez (who leads the National League in RBI), has been mediocre even on their best days.
However, they’ve been finding a way to pick up knocks, move runners along, take extra bases, and drive runners in from third in myriad ways. The bullpen has done the same thing in many games, as guys like Dillon Maples, Keegan Thompson, Rex Brothers, Andrew Chafin, and Justin Steele continue to impress.
Ever since David Ross mentioned the Cubs were pretty much all or nothing with home runs on offense, they’ve hit a ton of singles, stolen a bunch of bases, and found a way to beat pitchers they shouldn’t on paper. Much of this has been thanks to some different types of hitters, many of whom have come off the bench or seized opportunities in spot starts. Jake Marisnick, Matt Duffy, and Eric Sogard have put together 45 hits in just 159 at bats, 7 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs (all Marisnick), and 26 RBI so far on the season in backup roles. To put that in perspective, Happ and Joc Pederson have gone 25-for-148 so far on the season with just 3 home runs and 10 RBI.
Not only have the Cubs continued to stay in the hunt for the NL Central and a postseason berth despite poor performances by most regulars, they’ve also seen a number of IL stints to starters that should have sunk the ship. Suffice it to say that the Cubs are getting the most out of some inspiring bench players and unsung heroes so far this season, while playing a breath-of-fresh-air brand of baseball that most fans haven’t seen in many years.
Will or can this continue and still see the Cubs produce decent results? Stay tuned.