The Cubs Are Who We Thought They Were
One day into the regular season, the Cubs are undefeated and sit in a tie for first place in the NL Central after a game that surely offered enough evidence from which to draw definitive conclusions. Right? Okay, maybe we need to wait another day or two before making any real pronouncements, but Thursday’s shutout victory over the Brewers at Wrigley did reinforce a few beliefs we had about the Cubs.
Even if I’m using the royal “we” a bit liberally here, thereby including those among you who remain unshaken in your belief that this is a cheap group of castoffs destined to finish fourth or fifth in the division, a few obvious facets have stood out for months. The overarching theme established quickly over the offseason was that Jed Hoyer wanted to build a different brand of Cubs baseball that was really more of a throwback to a pre-90s style of play.
The belief was — and still is, of course — that keying on pitching, defense, veteran leadership, and aggressive baserunning would yield a roster that could win more close games and avoid the prolonged skids we’ve seen in recent seasons. Add in the new rules on limiting shifts and increasing the size of bases and you can really see how the front office felt it could squeeze more intrinsic value from a group that might not be very impressive on paper.
Last season saw the Cubs running more than they had in nearly 20 years, taking extra bases with steals and going from first to third on singles as well as just about any team in the league. While they didn’t swipe any bags on Thursday, they went first to third three times in their four-run 3rd inning. All three of those runners ended up scoring, plus Dansby Swanson came home from second on a Trey Mancini single.
That had to have felt great for both new Cubs, but it was particularly sweet for the big-ticket shortstop who collected as many hits in his debut as he had throughout all of spring training.
“This is not like an ‘I told you so,’ moment,” Swanson said after going 3-for-4 and driving in the first run of the season. “But it’s just awesome when you’re proved right. I think it’s just such a great thing for our team, because it just gives even more believability in who we are.”
The Cubs tallied six hits, all singles, and struck out just five times against four walks while facing Corbin Burnes and a Brewers team expected to be carried by its pitching. They also came up big on defense in spite of a throwing error by Nico Hoerner and two passed balls charged to Yan Gomes. Marcus Stroman indeed had his sanker sankin’ as he generated grounders at a 75% clip, one of which resulted in a double play to end a bases-loaded threat with one out in the 3rd inning.
Okay, so the pitch Rowdy Tellez slapped to Hoerner was actually a slurve.
The point is that Stroman and other members of a staff that by and large pitch to contact can now do so with much greater confidence that more balls in play will turn into outs. And that the offense, though not littered with mashers, has a number of run-manufacturers whose aggregate talents should produce a little more continuity than what we’ve seen since about 2017 or so.
Not that this team’s ceiling is quite as high as those squads from a few years back, but there have been glimpses of a legit contender when you see the Cubs playing at full strength. Maybe the narrative flips back in a hurry if they’re blanked on Saturday and the pitching falls apart. Or perhaps they don’t continue to come up with timely hits in lieu of bombs at a high enough rate to outscore opponents.
What’s odd isn’t that there are still plenty of fans who believe this team will fall short, it’s that so many seem to perversely want that to be the case.
I know it’s just one game, but it has further cemented for me a belief that’s been curing over the last month or two. This Cubs team should end up being really fun to watch and could be right up there in the playoff hunt on the basis of playing clean, aggressive baseball up and down the roster. At the very least, we have some extra time to ride the wave of optimism from an Opening Day W.