Chicago Cubs Series Review: Trip to Milwaukee Offers Sliver of Silver Lining

If you would’ve told me before the season started that the Cubs would be limping back to Chicago for their home opener at 2-7 and 5 1/2 games out of first place after losing two of three to the Brewers, I would’ve started drinking heavily. Or at least had another beer. The Cubs were supposed to get off to a good start to this season of reckoning.

Oddly enough, things don’t seem as bleak as I thought they’d be at the beginning of the Brewers series. Has the bar been lowered that much already that we’re seeing silver linings? Yes, the Cubs lost the series, but the way they finished the weekend has to have you feeling better than you did Friday night.

The Good

The offseason focus was on fixing the offense Theo Epstein deemed broken. I am now declaring it fixed after the Cubs scored 26 runs in the series. Now fix the bullpen, Theo!

Jason Heyward was doing his best Kris Bryant imitation, while Bryant was doing his best Heyward imitation. Heyward and Victor Caratini surprisingly carried the Cubs’ offense, helping them score two touchdowns in their sole victory over the Brewers on Saturday.

Even though the heart of the order stunk it up, they were able to put up more gaudy numbers just as they did against the Rangers. You might also rest a little easier noticing that the Brewers pitching staff is not going to allow them to run away with this division just yet.

Willson Contreras is showing everyone that 2017 was no fluke so far. The aberration seems to have been last season, and the catcher’s early revival is probably the single most satisfying development so far this season. Contreras even threatened to put the Cubs back into position to win the series Sunday with a two-run opposite-field job. But then the Brewers decided to end the game in the seventh inning by summoning the Mind-Flayer (Josh Hader).

The bad

Poor Joe Maddon was caught on camera during Saturday’s game cursing his bullpen as they once again tried to give away another game. Thankfully, Heyward would simply not let that happen. Who could possibly blame the Cubs skipper for cursing the bullpen? They have been sucking the life out of his team.

The Cubs called in reinforcements from Iowa before even playing a home game. Let that sink in. Kyle Ryan and Alan Webster were put to work immediately, struggling early but showing signs that they’re capable of much more than Carl Edwards Jr. was for at least the time being.

The bullpen, including Tyler Chatwood, strung together four scoreless innings on Sunday. That’s probably the brightest takeaway and the main thing keeping me from reaching into the fridge to start day-drinking ahead of the home opener.

The ugly

When it comes to winning baseball teams, I have always followed the money, which the Cubs have a lot of invested in their starting rotation. So far it is led them into fifth place.

“For the most part, Jon Lester and Cole Hamels have looked kind of normal,” Maddon said after his team lost Sunday. “The other guys, we just have to get them on track. They are going to be soon. Kyle has had two un-Kyle-like performances. He knows he is not far off. I always trust his self-evaluation.”

The Cubs have three quality starts in nine games. Kyle Hendricks got an extension and hasn’t left the 4th inning since. Jose Quintana, usually the Brewers whisperer, suffered an early KO Friday night. In fact, only Lester and Hamels have managed to make it through the 6th.

I’m not too concerned about Hendricks, but I sure hope he isn’t trying to do too much in the wake of the reinforced commitment from the front office. His early-inning struggles are notable and the Cubs need him to step up while they hope the big investment in Yu Darvish starts paying dividends.

As for players the Cubs need to come up big, Bryant is certainly being counted on as one of the Cubs money players. Yet in this series, Bryant came up short in key moments. The Cubs are insisting the slugger is again healthy, and he did flash his signature pop during the Texas series.

He may be just working through a mini-slump, with nerves getting a little frayed seeing fastballs whizzing past him coupled with soft contact. That’s something we witnessed all too much after his shoulder injury last year.

“He’s gonna start hitting as he has,” Maddon said. “I really believe this is an elite player coming off the end of last season — not so good, injured. This season, the first game in Texas, I said, ‘My god, here we go.’ That looked absolutely perfect. So just continuing to support him and let him play out of it.”

At the end of last season, the big focus was on whether the Cubs’ young hitters could find themselves and once again become a force. The evidence we are witnessing so far, especially from key players like Contreras and Kyle Schwarber, tells us that’s going to happen.

Epstein has to be liking what he is seeing from the young core he has invested so much faith in (even if the money isn’t there for most of them yet). Now he just needs to see a return from his pricey starting pitching.

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