Here’s your Chicago Cubs week in review that comes on the heels of an exciting Opening Series at Wrigley Field. It may be a trying season, so let’s revel while we can: damn the small sample size, full speed ahead! (Numbers in parentheses are NL rank this week.)
- Record: 2-1, .667 (T-3).
- Runs scored/game: 6.00 (2) Runs allowed/game: 3.00 (4)
- Player of the week: Seiya Suzuki, .539 OBP, 1 HR, 6 RBI
I heard a local broadcaster unaffiliated with the Cubs call him “Suzaki;” soon the whole world will know his name! Suzuki did all his damage from the six hole in the lineup, but he’ll probably move up soon. At least for this week, he looked like the power and patience guy the Cubs so desperately need.
HIs fielding will be worth monitoring as he gets used to his new center field teammates. Jason Heyward is excellent but hasn’t played a huge amount of innings in center, and Michael Hermosillo may see considerable time in what could develop into the short side of a platoon. Communication will be key to avoiding a collision-induced injury that the thin Cubs roster can ill afford.
Speaking of power and patience, Ian Happ also raked this week, going 5-for-9 with two doubles and a walk. It’s a great start for Happ, whose re-emergence as a middle of the order threat would help a Cubs team that will often need to score six to win..
Struggler of the week: Jesse Chavez, 2/3 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 HR, 1 BB, 40.50 ERA
It was feast or famine for the Cubs pitching staff this week: of the 12 pitchers who took the mound, nine had ERAs under 2.00, while the other three had ERAs north of 11.00. Chavez blazed (literally) the trail with a disastrous appearance against an otherwise largely somnolent Milwaukee lineup.
It’s early days yet, but it appears David Ross might be moving toward using David Robertson and Mychal Givens in high-leverage situations in the eighth and ninth innings. It’s in the innings between the starters and these two guys where there be dragons. One of Ross’ most difficult and urgent tasks will be sorting out the middle inning bullpen roles, although, to be fair, the same can probably be said for most managers, especially this time of year.
Patrick Wisdom also struggled this week, going 1-for-10 with four Ks. This isn’t entirely surprising given the usually high quality of the Brewers’ pitchers, but a bit worrisome since many other Cubs hitters were able to solve them.
What we learned last week
Ross’ emphasis on better patience from the hitters showed encouraging early signs. Last season Cubs hitters were worst in the league in strikeout percent (26.7) and 12th in walk percent (8.4). This week they were eighth in strikeout rate (24.3) and first in walk rate (14.8). And the Cubs did this against one of best staffs in the majors.
Suzuki’s walk rate will probably decline some as he moves up into better-protected locations in the lineup, but he wasn’t the only one with a discerning eye: Rafael Ortega and Jason Heyward also drew multiple walks this week. Ten of the 14 Cubs hitters to make an appearance drew at least one walk and none of these were intentional. (Indeed, the entire NL saw just two free passes.)
What we questioned last week
The Brewers’ serial assault on Cubs hitters continued unabated; only the Mets received more drillings (5) than the Cubs (4). These two series (Cubs/Brewers and Mets/Nationals) accounted for 13 of last week’s 27 total NL beanings. Not to get excessively technical here, but that is not a stochastic distribution. A system-wide approach (like tackier baseballs), however useful, would not fix this problem.
Theo Epstein is now MLB’s Vice President in Charge of Improving Things*; maybe he could assign a couple of his crack staff to figure out how to prevent these beanball wars from getting out of hand. It’s less likely to involve rule changes than improved enforcement approaches.
*Not his real title
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Most major league pitching staffs get through nine innings without turning the game into a gruesome anatomy lesson. A few exemplary ejections of pitchers on less enlightened staffs might help focus minds and, more importantly, avert serious harm. On the other hand, it took over a century for MLB to figure out that second base is in the wrong place, so maybe we just need to be patient.