The Shape of Water Cooler Talk: Addressing a Few (Probably) Premature Cubs Freak-Out Topics
I chose the title because of its obvious pop culture ties, but, like, does any workplace even have a water cooler any more? And do people gather around it like representatives of neighboring tribes to pass on the gossip of the day or discuss topics like the general implausibility of Negan’s recent story arc in The Walking Dead? Maybe sites like this one are sort of like modern-day oases, though that’s probably giving us too much credit.
Whatever the case may be in that regard, I wanted to take a few moments to address some of the concerns that have been cropping up now that we’re a whole 3.1 percent of the way through the baseball season. After all, that totally feels like a large enough sample from which to draw reasonable conclusions.
I just hope my takes are slightly less divisive in nature than a movie involving a mute woman getting freaky with a fish man.
Chili Davis is not the problem
It’s only been five games, ladies and dudes. I mean, yeah, the Cubs set a new NL record by striking out 58 times in those contests, but consider that they’ve really played six games when you factor in the extra innings in Miami. And wouldn’t you know it, nine of those strikeouts came in those additional frames.
Averaging more than a strikeout per inning isn’t great by any stretch, but the Cubs’ overall K rate of 25.3 percent is only three ticks higher than last season and is still better than six other teams. As far as silver linings go, that one’s got hella patina, though it can be polished up in a hurry.
The bigger issue with those K’s has been situational hitting, which is something new hitting coach Chili Davis was supposed to help with. As such, the murmurs about his effectiveness have already begun and we’ve even started to hear a few catcalls. Hell, some folks have come out and discussed wholesale changes, which, no.
Listen, I’m not saying you should feel good about the way the Cubs have started. Quite the contrary, you should be upset about the soiled sheets they left behind in Miami and the lackluster effort to open in Cincy. Just don’t go extrapolating those performances out over the rest of the season. It takes at least six or seven games before we can go all Tom Smykowski and start jumping to conclusions.
The rotation will be fine
After looking like the best rotation the Cubs had ever assembled this spring, the starters have generally failed to impress in real games. Kyle Hendricks looked good in his turn, but the others have had trouble finding the zone and settling into any real groove. While all of them had flashes of brilliance, or at least mild sparkles, the real issue was consistency.
Given the recency of his outing, Tyler Chatwood is the easiest target here. His stuff looked great at times as he struck out four and scattered as many hits over six innings, but he walked six. It was as though he was trying to guide his pitches too much, something we saw with Lester and Yu Darvish as well.
Maybe it’s new-season jitters or just taking too lightly what were supposed to be inferior lineups. Whatever the case, the starters will eventually settle in and prove that they’re better fits for the rotation than Eddie Butler.
Justin Wilson is fixed
Crap, I just jinxed it, didn’t I? The lefty reliever has appeared three times already and has registered five strikeouts against only two walks and one hit. Just as it’s too early to make definitive statements about literally anything else, we can’t say for sure that Wilson is back to being the pitcher for whom the Cubs traded two top prospects last season. He is, however, looking like a guy who can start handling higher-leverage situations again.
Kyle Schwarber is also fixed
This one I actually feel pretty good about.
Ian Happ isn’t a leadoff hitter
Happ’s early performance has been kind of like the way the Indians started out in Major League. It was all thumbs-up and bloggers jumping in lakes after a season-opening homer, but it’s been feeding the geese and fans jumping off ledges since.
The switch-hitting sophomore has collected just one hit and has struck out 10 times in 17 plate appearances following that dinger, not exactly the best numbers for a guy who’s supposed to kick-start the offense. It should be noted that four of those plate appearances and three K’s came as a replacement in the marathon game, though the fact remains that Happ hasn’t hit well.
If it makes you feel any better, Dexter Fowler started the season 0-for-14 with a walk as the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter, and is currently 1-for-19 with a .105 OBP. And he was caught stealing following his lone single (it may have been a hit-and-run, but still), so there’s that.
My point here is that those lamenting the Cubs’ lack of a Fowler-type leadoff hitter might want to look at what Fowler himself is actually doing. Small sample size, you say? Look in the mirror, Bucko. Happ is a very different kind of hitter, I’ll grant you that, so a direct comparison is fallacy. However, so is thinking Happ will continue to strike out in more than half his plate appearances.
I’m sure there are more hot-take fires to either put out or start, but this should suffice for now. Besides, we’ve got a lot more season to go and a lot more freaking out to do before we’re done.