The Rundown: Enough with the Comebacks, Bullpen is Fine, Bryant Heating Up

John Lackey’s used to playing the role of heel, though it’s usually not that of the Achilles variety. But with another rocky outing Saturday, that’s exactly what the big Texan is becoming. And while it’s not only Lackey who’s been giving up early runs, he’s the easiest of the five members of the rotation to scapegoat.

Cubs starters have allowed a combined 21 runs in the first three innings of their last seven games, which comes out to a run per inning. Sounds kinda not as bad when you put it that way, except that it means giving up nine runs each game. Which, yeah, that’s pretty awful.

Some of this may be owing to the decreased velocity we’ve made such a big deal of here in the first month of the season, though that’s too easy an answer to the woes. Location is at least as big a problem, one that may be due to the starters coming along more slowly in the wake of the last two long seasons.

Perhaps it’s just anecdotal or some kind of recency bias, but the starters seem to struggle with control and location early before settling in and locking down. To wit, they’ve allowed only nine runs in innings 4-6 in that same seven-game sample referenced above. It’s almost like they haven’t gotten fully comfortable with their respective repertoires yet and still need a little live action to do so.

I’m sure someone from reddit can tell me what’s really going on, but I’ll stick with my initial theory for now, which holds that the starters will improve as they get better feel for their pitches. These comebacks are nice and all, but it’d be much better for everyone involved if the Cubs weren’t spotting opponents a handful of runs and having to close gaps every game.

No complaining about the pen these days

Since an implosion against the Pirates on April 16 during which they allowed 6 runs as a unit, the bullpen has combined to give up only 6 runs over their last 38.2 innings pitched. And almost all of those runs came from only two pitchers, both lefties (Mike Montgomery allowed 2 on April 17, Brian Duensing 1 the following day and 2 on April 22; Justin Grimm was responsible for the other).

Weird. Or not.

Perhaps the best statistic of all is that Cubs relievers have only walked 11 batters during this stretch, good for a 2.56 BB/9 that would rank second in MLB were it a full-season mark. As it is, the bullpen is walking 4.01 batters when extrapolated out over a full game, which means they were far more wild through the first half of April. Funny what happens when you limit baserunners.

Speaking of, the relief corps has only given up 23 hits in the given sample, which gives them a 0.89 WHIP that would sit atop the season rankings. As opposed to their counterparts in the rotation, Cubs relief pitchers are coming in hot and working efficiently. They’re dispatching opponents quickly and moving on through the latter innings. But there is one problem with that.

Those stats above have been compiled over 11 games, which means the bullpen is averaging roughly 3.5 innings per game over that time. And that’s with three road losses in which the home didn’t bat in the 9th inning, so the average could have been as high as 3.79 IP per game.

The Cubs really need to get more innings from their starters here if they want this run to continue. Having a lights-out bullpen is great, but you can’t have the relievers throwing as much as the rotation. Then again, given the way those respective units have pitched lately, perhaps you do want the pen out there more often.

I think we can safely dispel the notion that the relievers are what’s holding the Cubs back, or that the strategy of filling the pen with high-leverage arms is somehow a bad thing. Baseball is too volatile to expect this level of performance to continue in perpetuity, which is where a few long starts now and then would really come in handy. It’s also where having several different trustworthy stoppers is a huge advantage.

Again, it is a very good thing to have a bevvy of talented relievers upon whom you can lean in any situation. I’ll brook no truck with anyone who says otherwise, though I’d imagine that pool of candidates to be a very shallow one.

As it stands now, though, all the Cubs need to do is keep the score close through the first half or two-thirds of the game. I breathe easier when Maddon goes to the mound to pull his starter, which isn’t necessarily a good thing in the long term.

Bryant on fire

Though an 0-for-14 start had people wondering what was wrong with him, Kris Bryant just kept on doing what he does. He knew that, just as his father taught him, baseball is a game of streaks. As surely as you go a few games without being able to buy a hit, they’ll start falling by the bushel in due time.

Since that hitless start, Bryant is batting .341 (27-for-79) with three homers and 10 doubles. He’s slashing .390/.480/.610 and has a wRC+ of 185 with a .220 ISO during his active 10-game hit streak. While the power numbers are a little disheartening for those who wanted to see him at the top of the home run leaderboard, I’m far more concerned with other indicators of his improvement.

The pace at which Bryant has increased his contact rate is almost unheard of and he’s walking more than ever before too. Because these numbers have neared the sample size at which we can consider them stable, it’s reasonable to assume he can maintain them. So when the inevitable power surge hits, we’re going to be talking about yet another huge season for the superstar.

More news and notes

  • The Nats confirmed that Adam Eaton has a torn ACL and meniscus
    • This is a huge loss, as Eaton was playing really well
    • Even with a Schwarberian recovery, the CF is surely out for playoffs
  • The Blue Jays reportedly offered Dexter Fowler four years, $64 million
  • David Price threw off the Fenway mound Saturday and threw to live batters in a 30-pitch simulated game
  • Eric Thames was tested for PEDs for the third time in 10 days
  • Kris Bryant’s Monster shot got the Corey Freedman treatment

Back to top button