Tuesday Trends: Offensive Woes Define Start of Cubs’ 2021 Campaign

There are very few more reliable cliches in baseball than “it’s a long season” or, if that’s not quite your cup of tea, “it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Those phrases are oft-repeated because they’re true: 162 is a heck of a lot of games. Of course, that number is dropping all the time as there are fewer games left to play and the finish line draws ever closer.

I’ve always found it tempting to break the season down into 10-game chunks. It makes our old national pastime‘s schedule a bit more digestible by more closely approximating our new national pastime’s 17-game schedule. By that gauge, we’re one unit into a 16 unit season. How are our Cubs faring?

I suspect you know, reader, that it could be better. Troubling trends that have roots far deeper than this 10-game segment have continued to define this current group of Cubs and have led to a sluggish start that isn’t doing much to discredit bearish preseason projections. 

How has that looked on an individual level? Let’s take a peek.

Trending up

Jake Arrieta’s nostalgia tour
Last week’s version of this column prominently featured three starting pitchers who had gotten their seasons off to strong starts. This week, only one remains. The prodigal son has made the most of his Cubs reunion so far,  giving up only three runs over 12 strong innings including a strong start against the Pirates on Thursday. 

Craig Kimbrel’s resurgence
It’s not unfair to say Kimbrel did not get his Cubs career off to the start that he or anyone else hoped he would after signing in 2019. In 41 appearances over his first two years with the team, the veteran never quite found himself, walking 24 in 36 innings and producing an ugly 6.00 ERA. 

That’s all changed in 2021. It’s early, but he’s pitching like the future Hall of Fame Reliever the Cubs thought they were signing. In 4.2 innings pitched, he has yet to surrender a baserunner and has struck out nine opponents. This includes the first five-out save of his career, a tightrope act in Thursday’s victory. 

General manager Jed Hoyer has significant incentive to cheer for Kimbrel’s continued success. He can either help the Cubs win or he can help another contender win and, in the process, net the Cubs prospects via the trade.

Holding steady

The Cubs’ schedule
You’re going to have to take my word on this one, but the Cubs will eventually play teams that aren’t from Milwaukee or Pittsburgh. Though you wouldn’t know it through 10 games, the rest of the National League Central still exists. In fact, the whole Senior Circuit does. I can’t speak to the American League but I assume they’re still playing too. The Cubs’ schedule will diversify beginning this week, with the NL East featuring prominently in matchups against the Braves and Mets. 

Trending down 

The other new Cubs starters
Promising starts for Zach Davies and Trevor Williams did not carry through to either man’s second time through the rotation.  Davies gave up seven runs in only 1.2 innings to Pittsburgh on Saturday and Williams didn’t fare all that much better in his follow-up, surrendering five runs in only 3.1 innings. I wrote an ill-timed article on why Davies in particular is a strong candidate for an extension from the Cubs, and, while he certainly didn’t make me look smart, I’d bet starts like that will be an aberration.

Joc Pederson
Kyle Schwarber’s de facto replacement still has only a single hit on the season. It was a big one, but the former Dodger being successful is a non-negotiable ingredient to any hopes of offensive success for the Cubs. Coming into Monday’s contest in Milwaukee, Pederson was slashing .188/.241/.429. 

The only way to go is up.

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