To say that things have spiraled out of control for the Chicago Cubs over the last month and change is an understatement. Before their Memorial Day win, the team reached a season-low eight games under .500 following a sweep at the hands of the rival Cincinnati Reds. Their playoff odds have evaporated over this stretch too, dropping to only 15%.
Things are dire on the North side and fans are, understandably, furious at another year that feels wholly unserious. A complete turnaround needs to happen to avoid another year of selling off at the deadline. For all the frustrations and doubts, there are still several reasons to believe this Cubs team can hang around in the race going forward.
Reason they're still competitive: Front-end starting pitching
On Monday, Marcus Stroman demonstrated one of the main reasons to maintain some hope for the Cubs this season. While they've been on this disastrous slide, the front of the rotation has remained stout for them barring a hiccup here or there. That strength was on full display as Stroman stemmed the bleeding with a complete game shutout of the Tampa Bay Rays, the best team in baseball with the best offense in baseball.
Stroman, who holds an excellent 2.59 ERA and 3.55 FIP on the year, is just one-third of the three-headed monster the Cubs are currently running right now. Justin Steele has continued where he left off from the second half of last year with a 2.77 ERA and 2.86 FIP, even earning some early Cy Young attention. The real shocker, however, has been Drew Smyly with his 3.45 ERA and 3.62 FIP. Despite being seen as more of a back-end arm, he's been nothing short of spectacular.
There's reason to believe these three can keep it up throughout the year too. Smyly, for his part, is in the 93rd percentile of all pitchers when it comes to limiting hard contact. Steele is even better in the 95th percentile with the average exit velocity against him coming in at 84.9 mph. While Stroman doesn't rate nearly as high, he's in the 87th percentile when it comes to barrel percentage meaning hitters have fits trying to square him up. It's for reasons like these that all three have expected ERAs under three with Smyly the lowest at 2.96. That'll certainly play and keep this team in games more often than not.