Tuesday Trends: Small Glimmers of Hope Amid Continued Struggles

The Cubs continue to struggle as a team in 2021 and currently sit in sole possession of last place with a less than nice 6-9 record. They haven’t won a series since their opening set with the Pirates, dropping four straight since. A 13-4 drubbing by the Braves rounded out a disappointing week, erasing some of the momentum gained after the Cubs’ own 13-4 win against those same Braves the day before.

There are both encouraging and disheartening individual developments to review in this week’s edition of Tuesday Trends. Let’s get into it.

Trending up

David Bote‘s chances of holding onto 2B job
In many ways, Bote has deserved far better than he’s gotten this season. The Cubs gave him a chance to be the everyday second baseman coming out of spring training in large part because he has consistently done one thing quite well at the big league level: Hit the ball hard. For the most part, that’s translated into roughly league-average offense.

Has that carried through early in the 2021 season? Not so much, as Bote is slashing .171/.286/.400 so far.

As we saw in Saturday’s romp over Atlanta, though, he has the ability to do better. His two extra base hits in that game were both against high velocity pitches up in the zone, with his second inning RBI double off of a 99 mph fastball standing as a particularly impressive achievement.

His peripherals point to better things to come, too. 

For those who may not be entirely familiar, it’s good to see red when checking Baseball Savant. Bote and the Cubs are surely hoping that strong early-season peripherals will translate into more games like Saturday and fewer like, well, the other ones. 

The core bats
As Anthony Rizzo, Willson Contreras, Kris Bryant, and Javier Báez go, so go the Chicago Cubs. There is reason for optimism on that front, then, as all four stars have shown varying signs that they’re primed for success.

While Javy still sits just a tick under league average production in terms of wRC+, the others now sit comfortably above that mark. Rizzo, Bryant, and Contreras all had multi-home run games in this weekend’s series against Atlanta, which is a quick ticket toward good aggregate numbers in a season that’s still quite young.

Holding steady

Craig Kimbrel‘s return to form
It’s hard to overstate just how good Kimbrel continues to be this year and how good that is for the Cubs organization no matter how well the team happens to play. Kimbrel did allow his first baserunners of the season this week, issuing three walks, but has yet to surrender a run.

Trending down

The Shelby Miller experiment
The Cubs have had found great success in recent years with any number of pitching reclamation projects, particularly out of the bullpen. From Jeremy Jeffress to David Phelps to Jesse Chavez, the team has had the pitching version of the Midas touch on more than one occasion.

It’s easy to see, then, why they found Miller an appealing option. Sometimes, though, things just don’t work out.  The veteran hasn’t pitched a ton, but his results are beyond ugly.

In one total inning pitched over two games, Miller has walked five and given up just as many hits. That’s a 10.0 WHIP for anyone counting, a number that won’t get you far at the big league level. With Pedro Strop and Justin Steele both performing well before being sent back to the alternate site, you can’t imagine Miller will have much longer of a leash. 

Kyle Hendricks
The Cubs ace continues to have a rough start to 2021. After missing his scheduled start in Milwaukee due to illness, Hendricks returned to the mound on Sunday night against Atlanta and turned in one of the very worst starts of his career. The Professor lasted only a single inning, giving up six runs fueled by four Braves home runs. 

Turn the page. Let’s all just turn the page. 

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