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By the numbers: Analyzing Cubs through first part of 2015

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By the numbers: Analyzing Cubs through first part of 2015

With the Cubs' 6-1 victory over the New York Mets at Wrigley Field Tuesday night, it marked the 32nd game of the season, which means roughly 20 percent of the 2015 campaign is completed.

One-fifth of the way through the season, the Cubs are on pace for 85 wins. Last season, the fewest number of wins by a team that made the playoffs was 88 (Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A's). In 2013, the fewest number of wins by a playoff team was 90 (Cincinnati Reds).

[MORE CUBS: Buzz is back for Cubs-Mets as Jake Arrieta upstages Noah Syndergaard]

The Cubs' -3 run differential ranks eighth in the National League and 18th in Major League Baseball.

At .531, the Cubs have the ninth-highest winning percentage in all of baseball.

National League Ranks:

2nd - BBs taken (114)
2nd - SB (30)
5th - HRs (31)
5th - OBP (.325)
6th - Total Bases (435)
6th - SLG (.397)
6th - OPS (.722)
8th - Runs (137)
10th - AVG (.249)

[MORE - 'Bash Brothers' 2.0: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo will drive Cubs]

2nd - K/9 (8.46)
5th - Strikeouts (270)
7th - Batting AVG Against (.249)
7th - HR allowed (28)
8th - ERA (4.10)
9th - Quality Starts (16)
13th - Blown Saves (6)

Pace (hitters)

Kris Bryant - .276/.417/.460 (.876 OPS), 76 R, 25 2B, 15 HR, 96 RBI, 101 BB, 172 K

Because he was in the minors for the first two weeks of the MLB season, Bryant is also only on pace for 122 games and 440 at-bats, making those pace numbers above all the more impressive. He's walking at a ridiculous rate right now, which is helping to make up for all the strikeouts and helped ease the surprising loss of power his first three weeks in The Show. But he has three homers in the last four games and it's not crazy at all to think he could finish with 25-30 dingers.

Starlin Castro - .280/.301/.371 (.673 OPS), 66 R, 15 2B, 15 HR, 101 RBI, 20 BB, 137 K, 10 SB

Much like other names on this list, Castro is striking out too much and he's also not drawing many walks. The 20 free passes would represent a career low (he walked 29 times in 125 games his rookie season in 2010). Castro also hasn't hit for a ton of power yet, but those 101 RBI looks nice hitting in the middle of that lineup. The projections have him at 187 hits on the season, which means he'd notch his 1,000 career basehit somewhere around early September if he stays healthy.

Alfonso Soriano was the last Cub to reach 100 RBI (2012).

Dexter Fowler - .262/.348/.402 (.749 OPS), 101 R, 35 2B, 10 3B, 10 HR, 35 RBI, 71 BB, 147 K, 41 SB

Fowler is on pace to play in 157 games and notch more than 600 at-bats, which may be a little unrealistic. The veteran outfielder has never earned even 500 at-bats in a season and he hasn't recorded 20+ steals in a season since his rookie year of 2009.

The Cubs haven't had a player score 100 runs in a season since Mark DeRosa accomplished the feat with 103 runs in 2008.

Anthony Rizzo - .330/.455/.600 (1.055 OPS), 122 R, 41 2B, 35 HR, 96 RBI, 96 BB, 86 K, 35 SB

There's almost no way Rizzo winds up with 30 steals, but the crazy pace he's on was unpredictable from the start, so who knows? That BB:K ratio is elite stuff and the numbers across the board look like an MVP candidate.

Addison Russell - .250/.280/.431 (.711 OPS), 46 R, 35 2B, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 15 BB, 157 K

Keep in mind that Russell is only just now starting his fourth week of MLB action and that 35-double pace is only in 365 at-bats (96 games).

Jorge Soler - .280/.338/.424 (.762 OPS), 76 R, 35 2B, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 56 BB, 238 K

The first thing that stands out, obviously, is the strikeouts and lack of power. Soler hit 28 homers in 163 games in the minor leagues and had five in 24 games last year. His strikeout total is especially alarming, as he leads the NL in that category and 238 whiffs makes Mark Reynolds look like an extreme contact hitter.

Pace (pitchers)

—Jon Lester is on track for 15 wins and 203 strikeouts. He recorded 220 whiffs last season, his first year over 200 since 2010.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need Jon Lester, the perfectionist, operating at full strength]

—Jake Arrieta is on pace for 20 wins as well as 243 strikeouts in 228 innings.

—Jason Hammel (who starts Wednesday night) on pace for 15 wins and 177 strikeouts, which would both be career highs.

—Hector Rondon is on track for 35 saves. Kevin Gregg (33) was the last Cubs reliever to notch 30 saves in a season in 2013. Thirty-five saves would be the highest for a Cubs closer since Carlos Marmol saved 38 games in 2010.

Catchers

The Cubs went against the grain by keeping three catchers on the big-league roster to open the season, but that experiement has worked out for them.

Miguel Montero, David Ross and Welington Castillo have combined to post an .877 OPS, tops in the NL and third in all of baseball. The trio have combined for nine doubles five homers, 19 RBI, a .282 AVG, .377 OBP and and even .500 slugging.

Odds and ends

—Travis Wood has a 9.4 K/9 ratio through six starts, which is way above his career 7.0 mark coming into 2015. In fact, even in the minor leagues, Wood only managed an 8.4 K/9 ratio.

—Wood has also been a nonfactor at the plate in the early going. He hit six homers and three doubles the last two seasons with 18 RBI, but has only two singles in 20 at-bats in 2015, good for a .200 OPS. His OPS in 2013 and '14 was .639 and .700, respectively.

—With 27 errors in their first 32 games, only two teams - Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A's - have made more miscues than the Cubs. Joe Maddon's squad is on pace for 135 errors; they made 103 errors as a team in 2014.

—The Cubs have struck out the most of any team in the NL with 321 whiffs, almost 40 more than the next closest team (Milwaukee).

—Rizzo, Mike Trout & Justin Upton are only three players in Majors with at least 7 HR and 7 Stolen Bases this season.

—All of last season, the Cubs had four first-inning homers at Wrigley Field (they didn't hit their first until Aug. 19th). They have already matched that total in 2015, including two on Monday.

—In 202 PA vs lefties 2014-15, Anthony Rizzo is hitting .323/.443/.524 with 8 HR. He is 11-24 (.458/.581/.625) in 31 PA in 2015 alone.

—Lester's first four starts: 0-2, 6.23 ERA, 21.2 IP, 29 H

Last three starts: 3-0, 1.80 ERA, 20.0 IP, 15 H

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—Lester now 0-for-52 career at the plate

—Arrieta is now 18-10 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.030 WHIP and 252 strikeouts in 253.1 innings in 41 starts with the Cubs.

He was 20-25 with 5.46 ERA, 1.472 WHIP and 277 strikeouts in 358 innings spanning 69 games (63 starts) with the Baltimore Orioles to begin his career.

(H/T to CSN Stat Guru Chris Kamka for help with stats/info)

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

David Bote remains in lineup after Kris Bryant's return, headlines Cubs defense

Cubs third baseman David Bote charged down the line and called off pitcher Alec Mills.

Bote snagged the bunt with his bare right hand and slung it across is body. Bote’s throw to first beat the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi by half a step.

“It does nothing but fire you up,” Mills said after the Cubs’ 2-0 win over the Royals on Monday.

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Bote had been filling in for Kris Bryant at third for the previous two games, but when Bryant returned on Monday, Bote remained in the lineup. Even as a role player, Bote entered Monday's series opener with a top-5 batting average (.278) on the team and  tied for second in RBIs (5). But Cubs manager David Ross also trusted him in the infield with a groundball pitcher on the mound. Bote’s defense shone.

It stood out even in a game that included an outstanding tag by shortstop Javier Báez to catch a runner stealing and Jason Heyward covering a ton of ground in right field.

“I’m proud of our defense,” Ross said. “That’s something that we’ve emphasized that could be better, and it’s been so great. These guys are getting a lot of work in.”

This time, Bote knew long before the game that he was playing. On Saturday, when Bryant was a late scratch due to an upset stomach, Bote found out five minutes before first pitch that he was starting at third base.

On Monday, Bote remained at third, and Bryant started in left field. That setup put extra speed in left on a windy day and allowed Kyle Schwarber, who had played in left for the past three games, to be the designated hitter.

Bote worked with bench coach Andy Green on slow-rolling ground balls before the game, according to Ross.

 “This is one of the teams that bunt a lot in this league,” Báez said, “and we were ready for it.”

Bote proved that with a bare-handed grab seventh inning, when the Cubs were protecting a one-run lead. He threw out Mondesi for the final out of the inning.  But then, he made another bare-handed play the next inning.

Bare-handing a bunt and throwing across the body on the run is a play exclusive to third basemen. The downside of playing multiple positions is a utility man like Bote has to spread his receptions out among those positions.

Bote had attempted a bare-handed play once before in the season, but he didn’t field it cleanly – there’s a reason infielders use their gloves whenever possible. The margin for error is so much smaller without them.

In the eighth inning, Whit Merrifield hit a weak ground ball to Bote. The third baseman charged, fielded the ball with his right hand, and again threw across the diamond on the run. That was the second out of the inning.

“Both of those plays could have gone either way,” Bryant said of Bote’s bare-handed grabs, “and then there’s runners on base there. You don’t know how the game’s going to turn out.”

Case in point: Jorge Soler hit a single right after Bote’s eight-inning play. If Bote hadn’t thrown Merrifield out, he would be in scoring position with one out.

Instead, Rowan Wick took over for Casey Sadler on the mound and struck out the next batter to end the inning.

“It’s those little things in the games that don’t get too much attention,” Bryant continued, “but they definitely do change the momentum of everything out there.”

 

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How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

How David Ross plans to fix Cubs closer problem with Craig Kimbrel in the shop

One of the unnoticed benefits of Javy Báez’s game-ending single in the 11th inning Sunday against the Pirates was that it eliminated a 12th inning that would have belonged to the struggling Craig Kimbrel.

That was David Ross’ next man out of the bullpen, the Cubs manager said Monday.

Instead, we watched the man who would be — and should be — the closer pitch out of the contrived jam (man on second) that is the start of each extra inning this year, and earn the win.

Or did we?

One day after veteran Jeremy Jeffress needed just nine pitches to beat the Pirates in the best of four impressive bullpen appearances, Rowan Wick earned a four-out save in a 2-0 victory over the Royals on Monday night.

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And just like that, the Cubs unveiled a closer-by-committee scheme, if not a closer controversy.

The way the first eight games looked, it's hard to imagine having enough reliable pitchers for a quorum. much less a bona fide committee, among the 14 pitchers who have occupied roster spots in the Cubs’ pen so far.

But until or unless Kimbrel (four walks, two homers, one wild pitch and four outs so far) gets right again, that’s the plan for closing out close games, Ross said after Monday’s game.

“I think every night will be different,” he said. “Every night we’re trying to find the best matchups and who’s throwing well.”

Jeffress is the one guy in the group who has the track record, the unflappable veteran presence and the cold-blooded performance so far this year that included escaping a pair of bases-loaded jams in addition to Sunday’s 11th-inning work.

Whether Jeffress was considered unavailable Monday because of high-leverage innings both Saturday and Sunday or Ross liked Wick’s 95-mph fastball/curveball mix against the middle of the Royals order, it was last year’s rookie success story on this night.

“It’s going to be a full team effort down there,” Ross said. “I’m not scared to pull the trigger in a lot of areas with a lot of those guys. They’ve done a really good job of answering the bell here lately and we’ll continue to assess on a daily basis.”

For now it has meant eight consecutive scoreless innings the last two nights against two of the worst teams in baseball for a Cubs bullpen that ranked last in the majors in ERA and several other categories.

That’s not what Ross means when he talks about looking for matchups.

But 10 games into 60-game season, that bullpen almost certainly will continue to be assessed on a daily basis top to bottom.

And with its $43 million closer looking like the weakest link since September, the end of any game with a close lead might be the most intriguing thing to watch with this team for as long as this pandemic season might last.

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