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What the Cubs are most proud of three weeks into the 2024 season

1 month agoTony Andracki

There are two ways to look at the Cubs’ 2024 season so far:

There’s the “missed opportunity” path. A blown 8-0 lead (the worst Cubs loss in 22 years), 6 total blown saves, a series split with a team that owns the third-worst record in baseball.

But there’s also the other perspective: The Cubs are 13-9 despite an awful lot going wrong in the first few weeks.

If the season ended today, the Cubs would be in the playoffs as Wild-Card team. They’re on a 95-win pace.

That’s despite the fact that Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon — the projected Top 2 starters in the rotation — have combined to throw just 9.2 of the Cubs’ 196.2 innings this season.

Meanwhile, Kyle Hendricks — who has spent more than a decade as a stabilizing force in the rotation — has a 12.00 ERA and the Cubs have lost 4 of his 5 starts.

Julian Merryweather — who led the team in appearances last season during a breakout year in the bullpen — has only appeared in 4 games and will be sidelined until at least early June.

Seiya Suzuki — the team’s best player down the stretch last year and through the first couple weeks this year — has missed the last week with an oblique injury and will be out for several more weeks.

Patrick Wisdom — who had 76 homers for the Cubs over the last 3 seasons — just came off the IL late last week and has only appeared in 2 games.

Closer Adbert Alzolay has already blown more saves this season than he did all of last year.

Then there’s the schedule, which has featured a grueling 10-day West Coast road trip and tough opponents that have included both World Series teams from last fall (Rangers, Diamondbacks) as well as the powerhouse Dodgers.

Despite all that — and the tough losses — the Cubs are still in an enviable position.

“Even beyond the record, I think [rising above adversity] has been one of my favorite parts,” Nico Hoerner said. “Obviously you don’t wish for those situations to happen, whether it’s Steele or Jamo or Seiya or whatever it is.

“Unfortunately, those things are gonna be part of every season for pretty much every team. So how you respond to them is going to be huge both in wins and losses. But also seeing what you have in your depth and some opportunities in other places for guys.

“Guys like Ben Brown have been huge for us winning games. That was really impressive on the road trip from our group to still go 5-4 on a trip that had a lot of challenges.”

That West Coast trip began with the Cubs blowing an 8-run lead for the first time since the 2022 season. That could have been a harbinger for a really difficult 10-day, 9-game road trip against a trio of likely playoff contenders (Padres, Mariners, Diamondbacks).

Instead, the Cubs responded immediately after with a 5-1 victory in San Diego.

They dropped the next 2 games but then rattled off 3 wins in a row against the Mariners and Diamondbacks.

During the middle game in Arizona, the Cubs rallied from a deficit to take an 11-8 lead. The bullpen also blew that game but true to form, the Cubs won again the next afternoon to salvage a series victory against the pesky D-Backs.

“Both times, we bounce back the next day and play a really good game,” Jed Hoyer said. “To me, that means a lot. We’re gonna have more tough losses during the course of the year. That’s just the nature of this sport. Not having those things linger [is important].

“I think it’s been a really resilient group and I think that’s probably the part that is most exciting for me. … It’s early but I’m hoping that [resiliency] is a hallmark of this team.”

The Cubs understand more than 86% of the schedule is yet to be played.

But they hope the early identity of the team is something that can carry throughout the summer.

“I’ve been encouraged by the resiliency,” GM Carter Hawkins said on the Marquee Sports Network broadcast Saturday. “The chance for our guys to show they can flush a really bad loss and come back with the effort and intent to win a baseball game as if it didn’t happen.

“I think those things bode well over the course of 162 games and definitely encouraged from that standpoint.”

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This is a Cubs team that is fully bought into the idea that clubhouse chemistry matters and pays dividends on the field.

When Alzolay struggled in the closer’s role, it wasn’t just another pitcher or a coach who reached out. Shortstop Dansby Swanson called Alzolay Saturday night for a supportive chat and then the two spent Sunday morning going over video together in the cafeteria.

And on the West Coast road trip, Swanson helped organize a giant team dinner with more than 20 of the players in attendance (a few had prior commitments) during the off-day in Seattle.

“Always had a saying that good teams hang out together,” Swanson said. “Just being able to get away, spend an off-day going to dinner, get a nice dinner, hang out with everybody and not necessarily let your guard down but be able to be in a room and all eat together and enjoy that time together, it’s so much fun.

“That’s what people usually remember most when they get done playing is that time spent with one another. It was such an awesome time for all of us to get together.”

It was a gesture that carried a lot of weight with a young player like Christopher Morel.

“They told us, ‘we’re a family, we need to be together,'” Morel said of the team dinner. “It was good for us.”

Swanson saw a lot of these positive qualities last season as the Cubs fought back from 10 games under .500 in June to the thick of the playoff race until the final week.

But he also acknowledged how hard it was to build that chemistry last year when there were so many new faces on the roster. It took some time to come together.

“We obviously went through a lot last year and coming into this year, there was a lot more familiarity with one another,” Swanson said. “I think that plays a big role. The communication’s been great. Guys have responded to anything and everything.

“Everyone’s a year older, a little bit more mature. You name it. It’s definitely been a good start for us and I think there’s a lot left in the tank.”

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