Chicago Cubs Series Recap: Emotional Swings, Psychological Misses in Season-Opening Swoon

The Cubs front office could not wait to get back to baseball so they could finally wash the stink of 2018 off of them. They also couldn’t wait to get past the disappointing and self-loathing offseason that quickly followed it.

Cubs fans felt like teenagers roaming a loaded mall without any cash in their pockets. Forget Bryce Harper, the Cubs couldn’t afford to address their suspect bullpen with anything more than Brad Brach. The social media collective was as angsty as ever, perhaps more so, as the interminable wait for real baseball dragged on.

Thursday’s season opener in Texas provided some hope that 2019 would be different for an offense that was deemed broken.

The good

The Cubs offense put together quite a series. They looked focused as a unit, doing all the little things and showing a grinder mentality that hearkened back to 2016. They jumped on top early and battled back when they got down.

The cast of regulars up and down the lineup offered plenty to be happy about:

  • Javy Baez not showing any signs of that anticipated regression just yet.
  • Wilson Contreras putting together beautiful at-bats and gorgeous swings.
  • Kyle Schwarber looked laser focused in his plate appearances and stroked two home runs in the three-game set.
  • Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo were once again the powerful duo providing the beat at the heart of the order.

Even the much-questioned Opening Day surprises like Mark Zagunis and David Bote contributed. And Daniel Descalso, the Cubs’ thrift shop free agent find, looked like quite the fit on Sunday. Sure, no one will confuse the Texas starting staff with the Nationals, but anytime you can put up that type of production you should leave a series happy.

That is a season of damage, never mind the weekend. Thing is, a tremendous offensive performance doesn’t mean much if it’s overshadowed by the other half of the game.

The bad

That would be the pitching. Even with Jon Lester being Jon Lester on Opening Day, much of the hope was that Yu Darvish would make a triumphant return to the Cubs rotation pitching in the place his MLB career started.

Darvish struck out the first two hitters he faced and the Cubs’ world seemed right again. Then the big righty seemed to get too cute with his stuff and it got him in trouble. The wheels came off fast and Darvish lost control of his fastball as he worked deep counts. An evaluator I spoke with recently said he wished Darvish would adopt more of an attacking style.

Just like that, it seemed all the scary monsters from under the 2018 Cubs bed came marching out.

The Ugly

This category got a good workout over the long weekend:

  • Carl Edwards Jr. battled a dip in velocity and gave it up all too quickly on a Joey Gallo bomb Saturday night.
  • Cole Hamels‘ start was going just fine, but after getting squeezed harder than the Cubs budget, he issued consecutive walks to load the bases and then gave up a grand slam to clear them.
  • Tyler Chatwood actually showed some flashes of his terrific stuff of the pen and then proceeded to walk the Rangers back into the game.
  • Mike Montgomery was also awful, shouldering much of the malign from Joe Maddon, who was otherwise unworried about the ‘pen’s performance.

Yet, the Cubs are saying the banana stand had a fire and the front office must be dying for someone to sign Craig Kimbrel already. Cubs twitter and Chicago sports radio will make him into the greatest reliever of all time until then.

Kimbrel is likely not what he was even a couple of years ago, but Cubdom would throw a parade on Michigan Avenue if Theo Epstein was able to strangle the money out of Tom Ricketts to add him tomorrow.

Nothing will take the air out of a team quicker than a bad bullpen, but I’m still more encouraged with the offense to let the pitching bother me too much. For now. You can actually address the ‘pen during the season, something this front office I believe can find a way to do.

Should we start a GoFundMe just in case, though?

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  1. When the Cubs scored 6 runs or more runs last year they went 56-3, it was 49-0 when they scored more than 6 in the opening series its already 1-2 and 0-1. Before today the Cubs had lost 1 game where they scored 10 or more runs since 2006.

  2. I would trade Happ and Russell – separate deals – with some minors for quality BP help. Not desperate moves, but they could resolve several issues.

  3. Not that you are pushing any panic buttons (Tom), but early season baseball is just one step up from pre-season – in that you can’t put TOO much stock in early returns, good or bad. Of course as fans, we just want the good, early and often.

    The pen was bad, but so were 2/3 starters. If you wanted to throw a wet towel on the good; that’s a Texas pitching staff that likely won’t scare anyone all season – so you darn well better hit off them in March. Of course down the stretch last season it seamed like the Cubs could make any average starter look like Cy Young, so we’ll take the offense for sure.

    Atlanta’s a much better ball club though, and they will be motivated to jump-start something after opening up 0-3.

    1. The thing that bothers me more than the actual results of the game and pitching staff are the following two things – well two with an addendum.

      1. Cubs relievers look overwhelmed when they get behind in the count no matter the situation. Especially Edwards and his loss of velocity is a genuine problem.

      2. Jeff Burdick’s column regarding the working relationship between Contreras and Darvish. They may be incapable of working together and the Cubs need good seasons from Darvish and Hamel.

      2B. Hamels comments about throwing strikes when he got to 3-2 to DeShields. I get that you don’t want to walk a nine-hole hitter with the bases loaded but you can’t throw a gimme there even if DeShields is a career .339 slugger.

      1. If the umpire called strikes he would have K’ed the 8 or 9 hitters and he would have still been 2-2 on DeShields.

      2. Yeah, I’m less concerned with the 1-2 start, and more worried about how we lost. Close, high scoring games, with the lead late. Not good. Outside of Theo, and the wonderful sales pitch, not sure anyone was happy w/ current BP at the start of season. CJ just keeps regressing. It’s a shame. The pitchers are def getting hurt w/ Willy behind the plate, and I’m not sure his arm/picking off runners offsets his “loudness” and poor framing, especially on this softer velo staff. I’m almost thinking it’s better to let WC relieve Schwarbs against the lefties, and make him a 50-60% catcher, and pairing at least Yu w a great “quiet” defensive catcher. Yu is high maintance, but that $120M is not going away, and Cubs gotta make this work, somehow. Hamels played the odds on DeShields and lost, can’t blame him w/ that shrunken strike zone.

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