The Rundown: Cubs Tied For NL Central Lead, Contact-Oriented Approach Playing Well, Madrigal Steps Into Leadoff Role
We are now 10 games into the 2022 season, and the Cubs have become one of the most interesting teams in baseball. At 6-4, Chicago is tied with the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central and boasts a contact-oriented lineup that efficiently dismantles opposing pitching staffs by resisting anything outside the strike zone. Though they struck out 12 times in last night’s 4-2 win over the Rays, Cubs’ batters have routinely avoided double-digit punchouts while forcing their opponents into high pitch counts.
It’s probably not a stretch to say the Cubs are unlikely to continue winning at a .600 clip, but you have to love the offensive trends. Six of yesterday’s starters entered the game with an OBP above .330, strikeouts are down about six percent from last year, and Chicago entered last night’s game as the best hitting team in the National League with a .281 batting average. The boom-or-bust era of Cubs’ baseball appears to be over.
“They’re commanding the strike zone,” manager David Ross said after Sunday’s 6-4 win over the Rockies. “I like when they hit doubles, that’s for sure. Usually, that means it’s in the air, not on the ground. For us right now, that’s a big one for me.”
There may be no better example of the new philosophy than Nick Madrigal and Nico Hoerner, who have combined to go 7-for-16 with three doubles in the last two games. Madrigal was promoted to leadoff for last night’s tilt and, with a .343 OBP, it would be nice if he sticks there. Only 25% of Chicago’s extra-base hits this season have been home runs, a far cry from seasons past when the ratio was just about evenly split. Though they are only 10 games into the season, the Cubs are averaging 4.5 runs per game compared to 4.35 last year, meaning this team is much more opportunistic when you consider the drop in power.
The home runs will come once the weather warms, and if the Cubs continue to saturate the basepaths with runners, they’ll put up a lot of crooked numbers this year. If you’re looking for an early-season comparison, take a look at the Braves last year. Though Chicago and Atlanta had similar records at the trade deadline, the Braves were buyers, and we all know what Jed Hoyer did.
The paradigm shift bodes well for this season, however. Hoyer may find himself looking for a power-hitting batter and starting pitcher this year, especially with the expanded postseason. In fact, Brennen Davis and Caleb Kilian could be in-house additions that would prevent the front office from overpaying on the open market. It’s still hard to grasp that this year’s team has a shot at the playoffs, but at least they’re proving to be capable of making believers of us.
Cubs News & Notes
- The Cubs are a bandwagon team again, which is a good thing for those who so far have been unable to sell their Willson Contreras jerseys on Etsy.
- Seiya Suzuki is a big reason why the Cubs are becoming one of the cooler MLB teams to follow, and the exciting rookie outfielder was just named NL Player of the Week.
- Jason Heyward has played an invaluable role in helping Suzuki transition to American baseball.
- Suzuki’s nine-game hitting streak is the longest for a Cubs batter to start a Major League career since a nine-game run by Andy Pafko in 1943.
- An ideal combination of sweet spot contact, launch angle, and exit velocity indicates the rookie outfielder’s fast start is not a fluke.
- Despite a slow start, Patrick Wisdom is sticking to the adjustments he made during the offseason, and it’s starting to pay off.
- Approach and mentality have played a big part in the unexpected fast start by Ian Happ.
- Jake Arrieta has unofficially announced his retirement. “I haven’t signed the papers yet, man, but I’m done,” said Chicago’s former ace. ” It’s time for me to step away from the game.”
- The Cubs have a new, go-to dominant reliever in Keegan Thompson and he has very quickly earned the trust of manager David Ross.
- The Cubs continue to add veteran pitchers and yesterday they signed Luke Farrell, who previously pitched for the organization in 2018.
- Pitching prospect Caleb Kilian wants to be known as much more than being the guy that was traded for Kris Bryant.
- Wade Miley intends to test “everything” in his bullpen session today. The veteran lefthander has been sidelined since March with elbow inflammation.
- For those who don’t know a lot about Miley, his arsenal consists of four pitches that were in the top 20% in pitch quality in all of baseball last season.
- Speaking of prospects, reliever Cayne Ueckert, a 27th-round pick in 2019, is somebody to keep an eye on. Ueckert was assigned to Triple-A Iowa to start the season.
- GM Carter Hawkins said it’s a matter of “when” and not “if” when asked about the possibility of some team hiring a female manager.
Odds & Sods
For those who don’t already know, the Cubs have a Kiermaier of their own.
Tonight, Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier takes the field looked after by his brother:
Dan Kiermaier, the head groundskeeper for the Chicago Cubs ⚾️
(📸: @RaysBaseball) pic.twitter.com/cIStiAUaBm
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) April 19, 2022
Climbing the Ladder
“I used to think that the day would never come, I’d see delight in the shade of the morning sun.” – New Order, True Faith
It’s still early but some nice trends are developing offensively. Strikeouts, most notably, are down about 7% compared to last year. Chicago’s batting average is most likely going to come down too, but the Cubs are making a lot more contact this year, so it’s a good bet that this year’s team (.277/.364/.447) will outperform the 2021 team (.237/.312/.407).
Wisdom hit his first home run of the season last night, but more importantly, he’s struck out just three times in his last 15 plate appearances.
- Games Played: 10
- Total Plate Appearances: 378
- Total Strikeouts: 80
- Strikeout Rate: 21.2%
- Team Batting Average: .277
MLB News & Notes
It was 40 years ago today that Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle entered a game to “Pomp & Circumstance (aka The Graduation March)”, and the closer’s entrance song was born.
Not to be outdone, Chicago area native Nick Plummer, who plays for the Mets, strolled to the plate in his first big league at-bat to the theme song from Super Mario Bros. Mario, of course, is the world’s most famous, er, plumber.
Thanks to his increased slider usage, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw remains elite.
A week ago MLB.com made fun of fans who traditionally overreact after the first weekend of the regular season. Now they’ve ridiculously reversed course.
If you can dodge a pizza…
On April 10, 20-year-old phenom Roki Sasaki threw the first perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball since 1994 — then followed it up with eight more perfect innings on Sunday for the Chiba Lotte Marines.
A report by Sportico indicates that Rob Manfred may have been correct in saying that Index Fund investments produce greater returns than purchasing a major league baseball franchise…sort of.
For those who liked the transactional frenzy once MLB ended its 99-day lockout, Mariners’ GM Jerry DiPoto is among your ranks and would like to see baseball do something permanent to maintain that energy each winter.
“(It was so exciting) to the point where I think we need to find some way as a league to create some type of moratorium that focuses all of the offseason energy (on a shorter time period) like they do in the NFL or the NHL,” DiPoto said. “There was so much fun packed into those days with big free agents coming off the boards, big trades happening.”
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
Ex-Padres and White Sox starter Jake Peavy pitched in a game for the Savannah Bananas, using his actual 2012 gold glove.
MLB should take steps now to ban the fourth outfielder.
Monday’s Three Stars
- Yordan Álvarez – One of the game’s most under-the-radar stars, Álvarez enjoyed a 3-for-5 night with two home runs and four RBI as the Astros upended the Angels 8-3. I suppose upstaging Shohei Ohtani on your very own bobblehead night is the very definition of a No. 1 star.
- Frankie Montas – The A’s starter is reportedly still on the trade block, and had a nice showcase effort against the Orioles last night by hurling six innings of two-hit baseball with five strikeouts.
- Keegan Thompson – The Cubs’ reliever is becoming a middle-innings force and last night was no exception. Thompson blanked the Rays over 3.2 innings with five punchouts.
The Cubs honored Jackie Robinson Jr. at Wrigley Field last night, though not for his acting chops. I watched this movie last night and I can’t believe how many times the word “colored” was used in the script, though it does accurately reflect 1950 white American viewpoints. If you’re interested in an eye-opening book, I highly recommend “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” (2018) by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.
Did you know Jackie Robinson has acting credentials? He starred as himself in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story. #Jackie42 pic.twitter.com/w6ZfhEVu5e
— Cut4 (@Cut4) April 15, 2022
“The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort. We can use it as a door out—blame the messenger and disregard the message. Or we can use it as a door in by asking, Why does this unsettle me? What would it mean for me if this were true?” – DiAngelo
They Said It
- “At some point, the uniform goes to somebody else, and it’s just my time. Chicago is my city and it always will be.” – Arrieta
- “[Keegan Thompson] comes in, he pounds the zone, he works quickly, [and if] runners get on he’s quick to the plate. He’s got multiple weapons. Throwing strikes is key. You can fall behind and still come back. He‘s been a starter and has a feel for working through the lineup a couple of times and also dealing with traffic, so there’s a lot to like about him.” – Ross
Tuesday Walk-Up Song
Burning Down the House by Talking Heads – If last night wasn’t the coldest ever for a game played at Wrigley Field it has to at least be in the team photo.