Opening Day is always met with joyful optimism, even by those whose teams figure to be staring down a last-place finish by the time it’s all said and done. Thursday brought a special twist as fans were allowed back in MLB ballparks for the first time since 2019, at least when it comes to regular season games. The Cubs were facing one of those hapless teams, so everyone at Wrigley or watching from afar had all the more reason to be excited.
Then the game started.
Kyle Hendricks walked leadoff batter Adam Frazier and gave up a two-run homer to Ke’Bryan Hayes, putting the Cubs in an 0-2 hole just 10 pitches into the game. The Cubs’ ace went on to walk the leadoff batter the following inning, then allowed a single to Bryan Reynolds leading off the 3rd before walking Colin Moran. It took Hendricks 63 pitches to trudge through three innings, after which he gave way to a cavalcade of relievers.
“I really made it tough on the position players today,” Hendricks said afterward. “Just long innings, long counts, a lot of three-ball counts, a lot of walks. So they’re just standing out there getting cold.”
The inability to find the plate didn’t end with the starter, as each of the next six men out of the bullpen walked at least one batter in their respective appearances. Only Alec Mills escaped without blemish, striking out one in a perfect 9th that felt more like euthanasia than rally time. In all, Cubs pitchers walked 11 batters while striking out 10 and allowing nine hits.
The Cubs have walked 10 batters. Chicago pitching has issued 10+ free passes just seven times dating back to the 2015 season. Last time: March 30, 2019, vs. Texas (12).
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) April 1, 2021
Making matters worse was an offense that collected a grand total of two hits — a double by Anthony Rizzo in the 1st and another two-bagger by Eric Sogard in the 8th — on the afternoon while striking out 13 times and drawing just four walks. Seeing it from the perspective of the box score, it’s amazing the Cubs were able to score at all. That’s where we start looking at the silver lining(s).
Want to take a positive from this game so far? Cubs have had three runners get to third with less than two outs and all have scored. Situational hitting, hurrah!
— Sahadev Sharma (@sahadevsharma) April 1, 2021
As anemic as their hitting was on the whole, the situational execution everyone’s been dragging for the last few years was on point. I’ll grant that the strikeouts were all too familiar and the inability to mount anything resembling a rally against a mediocre opponent felt almost like a trope. Walks from the bullpen have also been a bugaboo for the Cubs.
But watching it all happen was like a parody of the Cubs teams we’ve watched over the last two or three seasons, as though Saturday Night Live was doing some kind of long-form performance that was even less funny than Anthony Michael Hall. As much as some people may want to claim this was the same old Cubs, Thursday was an aberration we’re not likely to see repeated soon or often.
Maybe they got too hyped up for the fans and saw their adrenaline dumps peter out before the first pitch or maybe they were overlooking a Pirates team that resembles a spring split squad. Whatever the reason, the big takeaway here is that we probably shouldn’t take anything away. Unless, that is, you are the type that actually revels in misery and welcomes failure because it allows you to be perpetually upset.
I’ll gladly join in your concern if we see more performances like this over the coming days, I just don’t think I’ll have to. If that does happen, though, it might not be just pandemic restrictions keeping Wrigley from hosting a full crowd.