3 observations from the Cubs’ 5-1 West Coast trip
The Cubs completed a successful 5-1 road trip out West after beating the A’s 12-2 and sweeping Oakland Wednesday. The Cubs have won four straight series and sit at 11-6 overall this season.
“Just playing good team baseball up and down the lineup,” manager David Ross said. “Coming out here on the West Coast — which is always one of those trips you kinda hold your breath on. We played a really good team to start in L.A. and came here and just carried that over here in Oakland [and] continued to play good baseball.
“Just really nice road trip. Guys take care of business here, final day, which sometimes can be hard to do [during a] 12:30 game. Came out ready to play.”
Here are three observations from the Cubs’ 6-game road trip:
Starting pitching carrying the day
Against a strong Dodgers team, the Cubs needed their starting pitching to keep things close.
They did that — and more — on the road trip.
Cubs starters posted a 1.23 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and opponents hit just .157 against them in 36.2 innings of work. The performances were bookended by a pair of strong starts from lefty Justin Steele.
In the series opener in Los Angeles, Steele went 7 innings, allowing 2 earned runs on 3 hits with 8 strikeouts. And then he turned in another quality start in the finale in Oakland, going 6 innings allowing 2 runs (1 earned) with 5 strikeouts. The lefty has been stellar for the Cubs, pitching to a 1.44 ERA in 4 starts this season.
Steele opened the season as the team’s second starter in the rotation and has been following Marcus Stroman’s lead. Stroman pitched 6 shutout innings on Tuesday, striking out 5 and allowing just 2 hits and 2 walks.
#Cubs starting pitchers in Oakland: pic.twitter.com/OZhrga8CZN— Andy Martínez (@amartinez_11) April 19, 2023
That pair at the top of the rotation had been shouldering the load for the Cubs early in the season, but the rest of the rotation showed signs of what they can be on the road trip.
In the second game in LA, Jameson Taillon turned in his best outing as a Cub, striking out 7 and allowing 2 hits and 2 walks in 5 shutout innings. Drew Smyly followed it up on Sunday with 5.2 innings of 1-run ball in the finale against the Dodgers. But Hayden Wesneski’s outing on Monday might have been the most important.
The rookie struggled in his first 2 outings of the year, allowing 8 earned runs in 6 innings and lasting just 4 outs in his previous start against Seattle. Against the A’s in Oakland, he turned in a performance that he and the Cubs hope can get him back on track. The righty pitched 7 innings of 1-run ball and struck out 7.
If the Cubs want to continue the hot start they’ve had to the season, they’ll need the rotation to continue to perform near that level. It’s unlikely they’ll post a 1.23 ERA the rest of the way but the Cubs know the starting staff is a key to success.
“The way we’re built to win is by getting good starting pitching, throwing strikes, making the plays,” Jed Hoyer said during the last homestand.
Bellinger coming into own
The Cubs’ trip to Los Angeles was always going to be special for Cody Bellinger. For the first time in his career, Bellinger was playing against the team that drafted him, the franchise where he won an MVP award and a World Series.
The Dodger faithful delivered, giving him a standing ovation before his first at-bat — resulting in an unfortunate pitch clock violation — and honoring the lefty who played a prominent role for the franchise from 2017 to 2022.
The road trip helped as a catalyst to continuing to find his groove.
Bellinger hit his 2nd home run of the season in the series finale off lefty Julio Urías and slashed .360/.429/.560 with 3 RBIs and 2 stolen bases on the road trip. It bumped his season numbers to .284/.347/.463 with a weighted runs created-plus of 118 — 18 points above league average. That 118 wRC+ is his highest mark since his MVP season of 2019 (161).
In Los Angeles, Bellinger showed his defensive prowess, too, robbing a home run from former Cub Jason Heyward.
.@Cody_Bellinger 🤯 pic.twitter.com/1bdeTIb052— Marquee Sports Network (@WatchMarquee) April 16, 2023
It was asking a lot of Bellinger to replicate his 2019 MVP season (47 homers, 115 RBI, 1.035 OPS) with the Cubs, but the offensive production he’s providing lengthens the Cubs lineup and is just what the Cubs would have hoped for from Bellinger.
Piling it on
When Hoyer spoke prior to the Cubs’ 7-run rally in the second game of the Mariners’ series, he touched on the importance of not letting off the gas pedal.
“I’ve said this a million times, I do feel like the measure of a really good team is being able to blow teams out,” Hoyer said at the time. “Wins in 5-run games or more are more predictive of wins and losses than close games. Close games ultimately are gonna be right around .500.”
Since then, the Cubs have done that multiple times. Later that night, the Cubs pulled off a crazy comeback, but they also added on runs to put the Mariners away and deny them an opportunity to crawl back into the game. With a 3-2 lead in the 8th inning of Friday’s opener against the Dodgers, the Cubs added 3 solo home runs in the 8th inning and two more runs in the 9th to stymie any chance of a rally for the Dodgers.
Against the A’s, the Cubs had four, 4-run innings in the three-game series and continued to tack on runs to not give Oakland a chance to comeback. Last season, the Cubs were 19-26 in blowout games (games decided by 5 runs or more) and 26-27 in 1-run games. It’s still very early, but the Cubs are 6-1 in blowout game and 2-2 in 1-run games.
“They’re just professionals and they give winning at-bats every single time and nobody’s giving away anything and I think it’s up and down the lineup,” Ross said. “Guys are locked in.”