Cubs notebook: Reinforcements and run prevention
The Cubs’ depth has been tested lately with a slew of health problems, but good news is on the way for David Ross’ bunch.
For starters, the schedule is currently working in the Cubs’ favor. It’s not often they have two days off in the same week, let alone three days off in an eight-day span.
So another respite Thursday is just what this team needs after dropping a pair of 1-run games in Cleveland.
Kris Bryant was out of the lineup for Wednesday’s game as he’s “super under the weather.” He came out of Tuesday’s contest in the 6th inning and did pinch-hit in Wednesday’s contest, only to be hit in the left wrist with a pitch (he was subsequently removed from the game). The Cubs called it a “contusion” after the game and Ross said the plan was always to pinch-run for Bryant given how he was feeling.
“[He] didn’t sleep much last night,” Ross said. “Just not feeling good. Think he wanted to be in there and was thinking about putting him in there but I don’t think he would be much use for us.”
The Cubs did, however, get Javy Báez back in the lineup Wednesday after missing the last few games with low back tightness/stiffness.
He sat out Tuesday’s contest but went to Ross late in the game to let him know he was available with the Cubs’ limited options off the bench.
“He can’t stand not being in there,” Ross said. “He’s the first one to text me in the morning that he’s fine and to put him in there. Yesterday we had a couple conversations on the bench. He came up to me late in the game and told me he was available if we needed him with KB coming out. I told him I thought we were fine.
“He’s another one that can’t sit still and can’t stand to be on the sidelines when competition is going on. He worked hard yesterday in the training room multiple times, getting work, trying to loosen things up. I don’t think he’s in real pain — I think it’s just some stiffness that won’t let go.
“He seems to be all good this morning from the text I got to make sure I put him in there. He’s in there today and we’ll just continue to get feedback and trust in his feedback to us and listen to him and his body.”
The Cubs also continue to get positive feedback on Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner and Jake Arrieta after the trio went on the IL last week.
Arrieta (thumb abrasion) threw a bullpen Wednesday morning and the plan is for him to start Friday when he is first eligible off the injured list.
Hoerner (forearm) was slated to take some batting practice on the field prior to Wednesday’s game and spent Tuesday doing baserunning drills and taking ground balls.
Happ (ribs) hit on the field before Tuesday’s game but is a bit behind Hoerner’s timeline right now.
“Each day Happer improves significantly,” Ross said. “The more he’s able to do when he’s not 100% the better, to stay active.”
The Cubs won the first-ever team Gold Glove award in 2020 but their defense has not quite stacked up to that level so far this season.
Last year, they finished 5th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved (+25). Entering play Wednesday, the Cubs ranked 26th in DRS (-8) but Ross believes those numbers may be misleading a bit.
“We’ve talked about that at length,” Ross said. “I think there’s a lot of factors early, a lot of guys moving around. I think Javy hasn’t been Javy quite yet, who we expect him to be.
“I really feel like we’ve been on our feet on defense a lot. A lot more than probably we were expecting — some long innings early on in the season that may have contributed to that. I think we’re leading all of baseball in exit velocity — the harder they’re going to hit it, it’s going to be harder to defend and the range is gonna play a factor.”
Báez is a major component of the team’s defense and he’s been slowed this year by hamstring and back issues.
There’s also the shift and how the Cubs are setting up their defenders. Early in Sunday’s game, the Pirates didn’t hit the ball hard off Kyle Hendricks but found a lot of holes.
“Positioning wise, we’ve seen guys uncharacteristically hitting the ball to different sides of the field they don’t normally hit it to,” Ross said. “Whether that’s a lack of velocity or stuff that we may have and our defensive models are set up for our contact guys to execute pitches — which they were kinda not the versions of themselves early on.
“So there’s a lot of factors that go into that that I think should clean up and get back to what we are. I’m not making excuses. We have been looking at that same stuff and trying to navigate through that as best we can and figure out what those tendencies are from other guys and how maybe our group is unique to batted ball information and velocity and how that’s playing into it.”
Ross still believes the Cubs are going to be a good defensive group this season. That makes sense, given they returned many of the key position players from last season, including Gold Glove winners in Báez, Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward.
Losing Jake Marisnick’s defense in center field will be a bit of a blow as he recovers from a hamstring injury but Hoerner (who finished as a finalist for the Gold Glove at second base last season) will play a larger role as the season wears on.
The success of the pitching staff is the main key in Ross’ account of the team’s run prevention this season. Kyle Hendricks and Zach Davies were among those that got off to difficult starts to the season but they’ve both turned a corner over the last couple starts and have been limiting hard contact.
In total, the Cubs have allowed just 3.14 runs per game over the last 7 contests following the offensive slugfests in Cincinnati.