Photo via Chicago Tribune
By Thomas Gibbons
Coming into the season, there were doubts about the Cubs bullpen. The bats? No way. The defense? Not a chance. But in the first stretch of the season, the defense joined the bullpen as an eye sore for the Cubs, causing a 2-7 start.
The narrative changed Monday afternoon at Wrigley. The Cubs opened their Wrigley Field campaign with a 10-0 triumph over the Pittsburg Pirates. Jon Lester broke the scoring open with an RBI to left center and five more runs followed in the bottom of the second inning. Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, and Ben Zobrist would also drive in runs.
After a rough start to the season, this is exactly what the Cubs needed. The bullpen has now throw 12 straight scoreless innings. You read that right. Brad Brach, Brandon Kitzler, Randy Rosario, and Pedro Strop combined for eight strikeouts and just three hits in Monday’s matinee at Clark and Addison in front of 40,000 plus fans.
Some notes from today’s win:
Lester exits early: Lester exited in the third inning with what later would be reported as left hamstring tightness. His injury appeared to have occurred on the base paths in the bottom of the second. Lester appeared to be wincing after sliding into home to put the Cubs up 3-0. In the top of the third, Lester would be visited by Maddon and the trainer PJ Mainville. Lester would stay in the game but only to be taken out moments later.
“As of now I’m making my next start, Lester said after the game. Tomorrow will tell us more.” Lester will have an MRI tomorrow on the injured hamstring.
The bats are on fire: Monday’s victory marked the fifth time this season that the Cubs have scored 10 or more runs in a game. Per ESPN, the Cubs are the first team since the 2005 Tigers to have a plus run differential (plus-1) through 10 games with a record of 3-7 (or worse).
Again, the Cubs offense was not a worry leading up to Opening Day. There is plenty of fire power up and down the lineup. And the middle of the order consisting of Rizzo, Bryant, Baez, and Willson Contreras have the ability to be one of the best in baseball. Baez and Contreras are off to hot starts, combining for 7 home runs and 16 RBIs. It is especially good to see Contreras hitting the ball well after a disappointing end to the season for the All-Star catcher. Contreras hit just .159 at the plate last September. Baez though has continued right where he left off. He’s hitting .273 in the first ten games and a .564 slugging percentage. It should be another magical year for Baez.
Bullpen is holding their own: It’s been ugly for the Cubs bullpen so far this season but the last twelve innings have been promising. After Kyle Hendricks gave up four runs Sunday in Milwaukee, Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Ryan, and Alex Webster gave up no runs giving the Cubs offense a chance. And Monday, it was a collection of four pitchers to keep the shutout intact.
There is no doubt the Cubs could have done more to address the bullpen this offseason. But you have to remember this bullpen had the lowest ERA in the NL last season. They have arms who can be counted on and the start of the season put that in question. Yet Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon continue to back their roster and I do as well. With a healthy Brandon Morrow to go along with Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, Steve Cishek, Kintzler, Brach, and hopefully a refocused and stronger Carl Edwards Jr. when he rejoins the club, the Cubs have a solid group. Everything went wrong to start the season but the Cubs bullpen has put together two strong games in a row and it’s all the confidence they need.
Looking ahead: The Cubs will enjoy a day off on Tuesday before their first night game at Wrigley on Wednesday. Yu Darvish will take the mound against Jordan Lyles of the Pirates. The series will wrap up on Thursday and then the Cubs will welcome Mike Trout and Angels to town for a weekend series.