It wasn’t too long ago that everybody was writing off the Cubs this season. They traded away Yu Darvish for Zach Davies and more, Schwarber and Lester went to the nation’s capital, and Chicago’s bullpen was only known for Craig Kimbrel. Flash forward to the beginning of June and the Cubbies are fresh off a three-game sweep over Fernando Tatis and the San Diego Padres. They are first in the NL Central, holding a 1.5 game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals. Moreover, they are 9-1 in their last ten games and are nine games above .500 (32-23). Even though this is not the same Cubs team we are accustomed to seeing, this group has established themselves as a top team in baseball. The Cubs are #back.
I (along with many others) was a skeptic this season with a rotation that included Zach Davies and Trevor Williams. I always had high hopes for Adbert Alzolay (3.62 ERA) and he’s coming up big this season. He’s making a case to be a long-term staple in the rotation. Jake Arrieta has struggled, but his track record and success with the Cubs gives me hope he can turn it around. Williams has done okay at best while Davies had a great month of May after a horrendous start. There is still an obvious need for an upgrade in the rotation and hopefully there is an upgrade by the trade deadline. Kyle Hendricks has been pitching well lately as well, now if he can just limit the home run damage.
There isn’t enough to say about the job the bullpen has done. They had like a 38 inning scoreless streak that lasted almost the entire month of May. Craig Kimbrel has been pitching like his former self, sporting a nasty fastball-knuckle curve combo leading to a 0.78 ERA so far. Andrew Chafin (2.13 ERA) and Ryan Tepera (2.45 ERA and NL Reliever of the Month for May) have been excellent set-up men for Kimbrel. We are also seeing a lot of unexpected rookies step up. Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele (on IL) have been lights out while the 30-year old rookie Tommy Nance has been dominant. It’s a great sight to see the Cubs bullpen take shape after a bleak outlook heading into this season.
Now, the offense has been ridiculed with injuries. Jason Heyward and Jake Marisnick are nearing returns after hamstring injuries sidelined them. Nico Hoerner (hamstring) and Matt Duffy (back) are also on the IL. David Bote was the lastest Cub to hit the IL with a separated shoulder. Even with the numerous injuries, unexpected players like Patrick Wisdom (four homers), Sergio Alcantara, and Eric Sogard have stepped up. When the Cubs get fully healthy, it’ll be interesting to see what roster moves they make, but it will also be scary seeing them at full strength again.
There is still a long way to go this season, but the first 55 games of the season offer reasons for hope moving forward. The NL Central is going to be one of the closest divisions in the MLB (as usual). Can Chicago push themselves past the rest? I believe they can because the Cubs are back.