Cubs News

Three observations as the Cubs win their first series of season

1 year agoAndy Martinez

The Cubs fell to the Rangers, 8-2 at Wrigley Field, but won their first series of the year, taking 2 of 3 against Texas.

Here’s three observations from the weekend set:

Top of rotation shines

The Cubs offense shined Saturday against the Rangers, but in the first two games of the series, both Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele showed why they’re at the top of the rotation. The pair combined to allow just 1 run across 12 innings and allowed just 13 baserunners (7 walks, 6 hits) in that time. It set the tone for the Cubs — and will do so for the remainder of the season.

Stroman has yet to allow a run in his first two outings of the year and has cemented his place as the Cubs’ ace this season.

“He never panics, and he expects to be out there and wants to be the horse,” David Ross said on Saturday. “He said that to me last year – wants me to look at him like, ‘that’s my guy. It’s ‘Win Day.’ He’s gonna carry us, he’s gonna save the bullpen – all the things that an ace does. To have that mentality is important for sure.”

After a tough start to 2022 due to an injury and a bout with COVID-19, Stroman was the team’s best starter. So far this season, he’s picked up right where he left off. Steele, like Stroman, was effective in 2022 when he was healthy and over a two-month stretch last season, boasted the best ERA in the NL.

If the Cubs want to have success this season, it starts with their rotation. So far, the top pairing of that group is showing they’re more than up for the task.

Offense shows signs of promise

Unlike years past, this Cubs offense isn’t going to mash its way to wins.

“I think we have good baseball players that are going to be gap-to-gap,” Ross said on Saturday. “I think early on, it’s nice to have the gap-to-gap base hit type guys, here especially.”

It’s not to say the Cubs have zero power — guys like Patrick Wisdom, Trey Mancini and Edwin Ríos (home run on Sunday) can go deep at any time — but early in the season, Wrigley Field will play very differently than it will in the warmer summer months. Having the ability to manufacture runs will be important not only now, but throughout the season. The ability to be multi-dimensional with their offense will help them produce runs throughout the season when their power hitters are in ruts.

In Sunday’s loss to the Rangers, the Cubs even had a chance to get back in the game with their offense. In the 6th inning, trailing 8-2, they loaded the bases with 2 outs with a pair of singles and a walk. Ross pinch hit one of his power bats — Wisdom — for Eric Hosmer to face the left-handed Will Smith. Wisdom struck out, but it was the right decision from a matchup perspective and one that could work in the future to the Cubs’ benefits.

It’s a small sample size, but the Cubs have shown their knack for driving in runners in scoring position. They’re third in baseball with a .328 average with runners in scoring position, behind only the red-hot Tampa Bay Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“When we have the pass-the-baton mentality, on to the next guy, let me take my knock, let me take what the pitcher’s giving me, especially when we’re in the environment we’re in sometimes, that’s a really powerful thing,” Ross said. “The more we’ll do that, the better we’re gonna be.”

Nearing full strength

While the  Cubs have shown signs of promise early on, they’ve done so without two key members — outfielder Seiya Suzuki and left-handed reliever Brandon Hughes.

That may soon change.

Both made rehab assignments with Triple-A Iowa this weekend — Suzuki was 2-for-5 with a walk, a strikeout and an RBI in two games on Saturday and Sunday and Hughes threw an inning on Saturday, allowing 2 hits and a walk with a strikeout.

The Cubs have missed Suzuki’s defense in right field and his bat in the middle of the lineup will provide a real boon for the team. In Hughes, the Cubs will be getting back a high-leverage lefty; they currently have no lefties in the bullpen and have been using Mark Leiter Jr. (who has reverse splits) as a de-facto lefty specialist.

It’s been just 8 games, so the sample size is still pretty small, but the Cubs have shown signs of what they can be at their best (see the first two games of the Rangers series) and where they may have some difficulties and room for improvement (finale of Rangers series). Ross and the Cubs clearly believe they haven’t kicked it into their highest gear and the return of Hughes and Suzuki will help that.

If they can replicate what they did on Friday and Saturday and add in Suzuki and Hughes seamlessly, then they can show they have what it takes to exceed expectations and surprise this season.

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