Cubs

5 depressing stats that highlight Cubs' postseason struggles

5 depressing stats that highlight Cubs' postseason struggles

Let's get something out of the way first:

The Cubs are in the National League Championship Series and only trailing 1-0 after one game in which the team was mentally and physically drained following a lit, emotional NLDS Game 5 and subsequent cross-country journey from the east coast to the west coast which also included an emergency stop in New Mexico. Oh yeah and the Cubs also were forced to face the best pitcher on the planet.

So there's no reason for Cubs fans to run for the hills waving their arms in panic and yelling obscenities. 

Also worth noting: This is a best-of-7 series, so there's not quite as much randomness and there is more time for the Cubs to right the ship and clinch their second straight World Series bid.

But for right now, things are bleak and here are the main reasons why:

Jose Quintana has the second-highest postseason batting average on the Cubs.

Everybody is complaining about the bullpen, and they are due their fair share of frustration from the Cubs' fanbase over the last six games. More on that to come.

But the offense has been horrendous in October. They finished the NLDS with a .180 batting average and somehow went DOWN in Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Cubs are now hitting .172 (31-for-180) as a team with only Albert Almora Jr. (3-for-9) and Quintana (1-for-4) hitting above .222.

Batting average isn't everything, of course, but hits are still the best way to score runs and scoring runs is still necessary to wins.

The Cubs scored 9 runs in NLDS Game 5. They have 10 runs in the four other postseason games combined.

Besides Game 5, the Cubs have averaged 2 runs per game this fall.

Sure, all six of those games have been started by National League Cy Young finalists (Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez), but the Cubs keep reiterating that if they want to be the best, they gotta beat the best. They just aren't beating the best offensively this fall.

It's not like they faced scrubs in the magical 2016 World Series run, either, forced to face Kershaw twice plus Corey Kluber three times in the World Series and Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto on the NLDS.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have combined for 18 Ks and only 3 BBs.

That's a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

In the 2017 regular season, the two superstars combined for 218 strikeouts compared to 186 walks. That's a 1.17:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

You want to know why the offense has struggled? Its two best hitters have regressed mightily.

But they have found ways to drive in 8 runs and of course, there are still at least three games to climb out of their funk.

Rizzo was off to a rough start to the postseason last year, too, and found his groove again at Dodger Stadium. Matt Szczur isn't around to lend Rizzo his bat again, but can the face of the Cubs find his groove in Hollywood Sunday?

Four Cubs relievers have combined for a 17.06 ERA and 3.16 WHIP.

Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon and John Lackey have combined to surrender 12 earned runs, 20 baserunners and four homers in 6.1 innings. 

Lackey and Rondon just pitched for the first time Saturday, combining to get 6 outs while allowing two hits, a walk, a run and a homer.

It's Edwards and Montgomery that are killing the Cubs out of the bullpen. Two of the most important relievers in Maddon's bullpen have struggled to gain any semblance of rhythm this October and that needs to change immediately if the Cubs have any visions of heading to Houston or New York later this month.

Wade Davis has saved three games and bailed the Cubs out big time in Game 5 Thursday, but he's still allowed seven baserunners (three walks and four hits, including a homer) and two runs in 4.1 innings, so he's been far from a shutdown reliever, too.

Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop have combined to allow only three baserunners in 4.2 innings (two walks and a hit) and just one run. So maybe they see their number called more as this NLCS moves along.

The starting rotation has just a 1-1 record.

Wins are a completely overrated stat, but the Cubs starters have been absolutely incredible this postseason.

Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Jose Quintana have teamed up for this stat line in their starts: 1.99 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19 hits, 7 earned runs, 14 walks, 30 strikeouts in 31.2 innings.

That's the kind of line that should elicit far more than a 1-1 record, especially when going up against the high-powered offenses of Washington and Los Angeles.

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.