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Cubs off to a Hot Start

Cubs off to Hot Start

The Chicago Cubs are off to a hot start to the 2020 season. Through the first six games, the Cubs are 4-2. The hot start is due to solid hitting and great starting pitching. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and catcher Willson Contreas lead the way with the bats, but third baseman Kris Bryant has struggled to open the season.

Not only has the hitting been a major success, but the starting pitching has been among the best in baseball to start the season. However, the Cubs bullpen has been abysmal. Could this be the downfall of the Chicago Cubs in 2020?

Milwaukee Brewers Opening Series

7/24
Milwaukee Brewers      0                Chicago Cubs              3
7/25
Milwaukee Brewers      8                 Chicago Cubs             3
7/26
Milwaukee Brewers      1                Chicago Cubs              9

Great Starting Pitching

Opening Day against Milwaukee brought out the best in Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks threw a complete game shutout. With the shutout, Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher to throw a complete-game on Opening Day since Bill Bonham did it in 1984.

Cubs off to Hot Start
Kyle Hendricks pitching for the Chicago Cubs on opening day | Image Courtesy of Justin Casterline/Getty Images

According to Stats Inc, Hendricks also became the first pitcher to throw an Opening Day complete-game shutout with nine or more strikeouts, zero walks and three or fewer hits allowed since 1888.

For his performance, Hendricks was awarded NL player of the week. Although Hendricks was the main topic for the Cubs’ starting pitching, Tyler Chatwood also pitched well against Milwaukee.

“I think Chatty has changed the narrative around here for all of us,” said Cubs manager David Ross. “He is a guy we’re going to rely on. He’s going to get big innings. I have extreme confidence in him.”

With Jose Quintana on the 10 day IL, Chatwood moves up to no. 3 in the Cubs starting rotation. If he can bring the same solid pitching into his next start and beyond, the Cubs’ rotation could be in for a big season. 

Key Hitting

Although the Cubs did not hit the ball well in their first two games, the bats came alive in their third game. They exploded for nine runs on 11 hits. Contreras led the way for the Cubs going 2-4 with a home run and 2 RBI.

Cubs off to Hot Start
Image Courtesy of Chicago Tribune

“Willy’s one of the best hitters on our team,” said Ross. “When he harnesses that emotion and puts it into the at-bats and really focuses in on the task at hand, you see what kind of damage he can do.”

Contreras was not the only Cubs’ hitter sending balls over the fence. In the opening series, Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo both had two home runs with Kyle Schwarber contributing one. 

Two surprising players not on this list are former MVP Kris Bryant and superstar shortstop Javier Baez. Bryant and Baez both struggled in the series opener. Bryant started the season 0-12, then finished the series 1-14. Baez wasn’t much better going 2-12 in the series. Neither player had an RBI in the series. If the Cubs are going to have any success this season, these two all-stars need to get the bats going. 

 

Cincinnati Reds Series 

7/27
Chicago Cubs     8                         Cincinnati Reds   7
7/28
Chicago Cubs     8                        Cincinnati Reds   5
7/29
Chicago Cubs       7                       Cincinnati Reds   12

Starting Pitching Still Efficient 

Although Hendricks struggled in his second start going 4 1/3 innings with seven hits and six runs, the Cubs still had quality pitching in the series.

Jon Lester pitched five shut out no-hit innings in the first game of the series. In the second game, Alec Mills pitched six solid innings only allowing two runs on two hits.

Before Hendricks’s performance on Wednesday, through the first five games, the Cubs starting pitching only allowed six runs on 14 hits. The 14 hits are the fewest hits allowed to start a season for starting pitchers since 1901. 

Ross has to be happy with his starting pitching thus far,  especially after seeing the Cubs’ strikeout to walk ratio.  Chicago’s starting pitching has struck out 28 batters while walking only seven in their first two series.

Bullpen Needs Help

After Mills pitched a great game on Monday, his victory was almost sealed after the Cubs went up 7-0 in the sixth inning and 8-1 in the seventh. That was until the Cubs bullpen almost blew the lead. 

The Reds scored two runs in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The Reds were zoned in on Chicago’s bullpen.

Kimbrel was called upon for his potential first save of the year. At the time, the Cubs were up three runs with a former All-Star at the mound. Kimbrel currently has the most saves by an active player in baseball at 346.

Image Courtesy of Getty Images

To start his outing, Kimbrel walked three of the first four batters he faced and hit another. The Reds loaded the bases with only one out and down by two runs. Although the Cubs did escape after Jeremy Jeffries came in, this became a concern. 

This is not the only instance of the Cubs bullpen struggling in the series. On Tuesday, the Cubs’ bullpen gave up three runs in three innings, more than Mills gave up in his six innings. 

In 21 2/3 innings of action for the Cubs bullpen, they have given up 21 earned runs. The ERA of the bullpen is an astonishing 8.72 to begin 2020.  

“You got to get guys in there and see how they look. That’s part of it,” said Ross, of his bullpen. “I’ve said these guys got to continue to grow. [They’re] still learning, still pitching, still continuing to try to execute pitches. 

Ross remains confident that the bullpen will progress and get better as the season goes on. However, 60 games is an extremely short season, so if the Cubs want any chance at the World Series, their bullpen has to improve.

Next Series: Pittsburgh Pirates

Featured Image Courtesy of Getty Images

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