Latest WAR numbers tell you all you need to know about this Cubs team

Chicago's pitching? Very good. The offense? A different story altogether.
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages

Even on the heels of Wednesday night's shellacking at the hands of the Milwaukee Brewers, Shota Imanaga has pretty clearly been the most valuable Chicago Cubs player this season.

The fact he allowed seven earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings of work and still boasts the third-lowest ERA in baseball at 1.86 tells you just how elite he's been this season. His success headlines a larger narrative surrounding this team we should all be well aware of by now: without the starting pitching, it's horrifying to think where the Cubs may be in the standings.

The Cubs WAR leaderboard heading into Thursday's matchup with the Brewers according to Baseball Reference backs that up: of the top 5 players, four are starting pitchers. Imanaga leads the pack at 2.3 bWAR, followed by Javier Assad (2.1 bWAR), Ben Brown (1.4 bWAR) and Hayden Wesneski (1.2 bWAR). Ian Happ rounds out the top 5 at 1.1 bWAR, his numbers buoyed by a recent surge at the plate.

Chicago's four best players all headed into the 2024 season as relative question marks. Imanaga is experiencing the first MLB season of his career while also adjusting to the major cultural differences between the U.S. and Japan. He's done nothing but exceed expectations from day one.

Assad has been solid for some time, but continues to stay locked in on the mound, quietly emerging as one of the most dependable starters not only on this team, but all of baseball. We knew Brown and Wesneski would have a role to play this season, but both have been tremendous swinging back-and-forth between the rotation and bullpen.

The only guy on this list who most probably expected to be there is Happ, who has been a disaster at the plate until recently. The two-time Gold Glover has been on a tear of late, with an OPS north of 1.200 over the last seven days, finally looking like the guy the Cubs expected when they signed him to a three-year, $61 million extension last spring.

Cubs need more from the guys who were supposed to carry this team

But as you'll notice: no Cody Bellinger, Dansby Swanson, Nico Hoerner or Seiya Suzuki. Bellinger is within striking distance at 0.8 bWAR, even after missing a considerable chunk of time with an injury, but Swanson has fallen well short of even baseline expectations in the first two months of his second season on the North Side.

The two-time All-Star shortstop has a 71 OPS+ and is barely hitting .200. His ground ball rate has skyrocketed and his defense has been average, at best. It's too soon to hit the panic button and label his seven-year contract a bust, but his poor performance this year has been very noticeable as the Cubs offense looks for answers.

Maybe two months from now, coming out of the trade deadline, this looks different. The starting pitching could level off a bit or (hopefully) expected key contributors are back on track offensively. But the story early on has been the pitching. Well, the offense has been a story, too, but for all the wrong reasons.