Home Sports Don’t sleep on the Cubs: Continuity, youth delivering for Chicago as they begin to find their stride

Don’t sleep on the Cubs: Continuity, youth delivering for Chicago as they begin to find their stride

0 comment
Don’t sleep on the Cubs: Continuity, youth delivering for Chicago as they begin to find their stride

Through seven weeks of the 2024 MLB season, the National League landscape has begun to take shape, and although the Dodgers, Braves and Phillies seem to be the teams we expected, consolidating themselves at the top, the rest of the National League is full of unknowns. . Things in Chicago haven’t exactly followed script so far this season, however, and the Cubs appear well-positioned to have one of the National League’s six playoff spots within reach come the end of the season. .

Chicago is currently 24-19 and 1.5 games behind Milwaukee in what is increasingly looking like a two-team NL Central. The Cubs’ pitching has shined, with a 3.17 starting ERA that ranks third in the MLB. While their offense has cooled off in recent weeks, they rank fourth in the National League in walks and fifth in home runs, two statistics that are often key in determining which teams make the postseason.

After the surprise hiring of new manager Craig Counsell, the Cubs’ offseason didn’t consist of many flashy moves. Chicago signed left-hander Shota Imanaga, re-signed Cody Bellinger and acquired first baseman Michael Busch in a quiet trade with the Dodgers, but beyond that, the front office kept together most of the roster that went 83-79 last season. last year. season. In fact, of the 37 players who have appeared in games for the Cubs so far this season, 29 (or 78%) were on the 2023 team.

After being in position to make the postseason and falling short in September, the Cubs believed they were good enough to make the playoffs with the team they had. Heading into this season, the continuity across the roster only contributed to the belief that this group has the ability to do more.

“I felt like when July started (last year), I was like, okay, we’re really starting to click. We are really starting to speak each other’s language. We’re really starting to get on the same page in the way we talk about things,” outfielder Mike Tauchman told Yahoo Sports. “So having a really similar group this year, it’s like all those growing pains, all that learning, feeling the guys, that happened. So I feel like this year we were able to hit the ground running.”

So far, that’s being confirmed with several of the team’s key hitters. Tauchman leads the team with 0.7 WAR. Nico Hoerner’s 114 OPS+ would be a career-high for him. Ian Happ has drawn 23 walks in 39 games. Christopher Morel is on pace to hit 35 home runs, much more than the 26 he hit last year. Bellinger has a 1.044 OPS in his last 15 games and, not to be left out, newcomer Busch has fit in perfectly with seven home runs and 13 walks.

The Cubs’ commitment to continuity has not been without bumps in the road in terms of their health. For the second year in a row, Chicago’s depth has been challenged by injuries, with players such as Bellinger, Justin Steele, Kyle Hendricks, Seiya Suzuki, Adbert Alzolay, Jameson Taillon and Dansby Swanson all on the injured list during the first month of the season. -further. Through that, the performances of the bench players helped keep the Cubs afloat.

Two good examples are third baseman Patrick Wisdom and right-hander Javier Assad. With Taillon beginning the year on the injured list, Assad was given the opportunity to start the season in the team’s rotation, and he has been masterful, posting a brilliant 1.70 ERA in eight starts. Wisdom, like many other players, started this year on the disabled list, but once he came out, he hit his stride, with a 1.047 OPS, and has thrived as a pinch-hitter.

“We’ve been tested with our depth, and our depth has proven to be quality,” manager Craig Counsell said. “I think over the course of 162 games, that’s a really good thing.”

The Cubs have also been bolstered this season by young players who have been waiting in the wings. Top prospect Pete Crow-Armstrong didn’t have much success in his brief stint in the majors last season, and he didn’t have the best start in Triple-A this year. But forced into major league action by Bellinger’s broken ribs in late April, PCA has been elite defensively in center field. Since he was retired, he has saved five defensive runs and has been worth two outs above average.

Right-handers Hayden Wesneski and Ben Brown have also been unexpected contributors after injuries to Hendricks and Steele. Brown, who allowed six runs against the Rangers in his MLB debut, has been impressive since. He has a 2.12 ERA in his last eight appearances as a small forward for Chicago.

“I think those younger guys are very prepared,” Hendricks said when he went on the disabled list. “They have worked hard and knew from the beginning that they were going to contribute at some point. You see what they’re doing, just mentally and how they handle themselves coming out, it’s really fun to watch.”

Counsell offered: “We’ve had a lot of contributions from young pitchers. That’s been really impressive. We’ve had five kids start at Iowa who made pretty good contributions. “They’ve done a pretty good job and been key contributors.”

When teams are forced to turn to depth to weather injuries, it also creates opportunities for veteran players to find new ways to make an impact. The past two seasons, Tauchman has been the beneficiary of these types of opportunities. The 33-year-old outfielder, who logged a career-high 401 plate appearances in his first season with the Cubs last year, is hitting .260/.391/.407 as he plays nearly every game. days this year.

Tauchman, who has been in MLB and Korea since his major league debut in 2017, has experience on playoff teams. He was a member of the 103-win Yankees in 2019 and the 107-win Giants in 2021, and sees some key similarities to those teams in this season’s Cubs team.

“(There are) two things,” he said. “One is just the calm confidence on the bench. Regardless of what’s happening in the game, it’s like, ‘Let’s go make our run.’ We’re going to have our entry,’ and (we) continue to strive and trust that that will happen. That is very important.

“And then, I think we’re seeing it now with guys that have gone down and others that have gone out. Every night there is a different hero. I think he speaks to the depth, the depth of the 40-man roster. On all the good teams I’ve been on, obviously you have your everyday players, your All-Star players, but it takes the entire roster to win.”

As the Cubs finally seem to get back on their feet after scratching and clawing their way through April and May, there’s a lot to feel good about. The fact that despite numerous injuries to key contributors in the rotation and lineup, they are on the brink of first place in the division is something to be proud of heading into June. And lately, with the stars back in the dugout alongside those who got the team this far, the Cubs are starting to look more like the team many believed they could be when the year began.

Memorial Day is unofficially the time when teams begin evaluating their rosters, evaluating their strengths and weaknesses as the season progresses toward the All-Star break. Chicago’s most immediate need lies in the bullpen, where they have struggled. With a 4.50 bullpen ERA that ranks 24th in the MLB, the Cubs are seriously in need of high-leverage arms. That’s an area the front office will have to address at the trade deadline.

But the Cubs’ play and their position in the division have positioned this team to add to their roster and feel confident about their chances of keeping pace with Milwaukee and, unlike last year, clinching a postseason berth.

You may also like