Brett Anderson

By the numbers: How 2017 Cubs measure up to last year's hot start

By the numbers: How 2017 Cubs measure up to last year's hot start

The Cubs woke up Friday morning with a 17-17 record and roughly 20 percent of their schedule in the rearview mirror.

Typically, Memorial Day Weekend is the first true checkpoint to assess MLB teams as contenders or pretenders, but as the Cubs head to St. Louis to take on their rival Cardinals, there's a sense of urgency surrounding Joe Maddon's squad (and in an anxious fanbase).

After a rough start to 2017, the Cardinals currently lead the National League Central with a 19-14 record, 2.5 games ahead of the fourth-place Cubs.

The Cubs clearly have not hit their stride yet and the roster is still rife with so much talent and proven track records that there really is no reason to panic in mid-May so long as everybody remains relatively healthy.

[CubsTalk Podcast: Fergie Jenkins and why there's no need to panic...yet]

But the numbers are a bit astounding when you compare the 2017 Cubs to the 2016 iteration that got out to a blazing-hot start en route to the organization's first World Series championship in 108 years:

.500

That's the winning percentage the Cubs woke up with Friday morning. In 2016, the winning percentage stood at .765 thanks to a 26-8 start through the first 34 games.

5

The number of Cubs regulars — Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, Willson Contrears — hitting below .250. Javy Baez and Jason Heyward (both with .253 averages) aren't much beyond that mark.

Of course, batting average isn't everything, but the Cubs also have five regulars posting an OPS south of .700: Zobrist (.698), Heyward (.697), Schwarber (.696), Russell (.652) and Contreras (.630).

As of Friday, the Cubs' most valuable offensive players currently rank: Kris Bryant, Miguel Montero, Albert Almora Jr. and Jon Jay. Not what anybody was expecting coming out of spring training.

27

The number of Cubs errors in 2017, ranking 25th in baseball. The 2016 Cubs were quite possibly the best defensive team in the history of the game, so some regression was to be expected. But defense is also the only facet of the game that can be slump-proof and yet the Cubs have gotten some shaky fielding thus far in 2017.

13

That's the total mark of quality starts from the Cubs rotation in 2017, which sits 23rd in MLB. Through 34 games in 2016, the rotation posted 25 quality starts.

4.56

The ERA for Cubs starting pitchers in 2017. That number is obviously weighed down by Brett Anderson's 8.18 mark across his 22 innings before he hit the disabled list, but Anderson isn't the only culprit. Jake Arrieta's ERA sits at 5.35 after his rough outing in Coors Field this week while John Lackey (4.29) has also performed under expectations to date (despite making history earlier in the week).

[RELATED - Ben Zobrist breaks down the 2017 Cubs so far]

The Cubs' defensive issues have certainly impacted the whole "run prevention" area, but Cubs starters have also allowed 41 first-inning runs this season, putting the offense in immediate "catch-up" mode.

In 2016, the Cubs rotation carried a 2.26 ERA through 34 games.

8

That's the Cubs' run differential this season as they've scored 166 runs compared to 158 allowed.

At this point last season, people were pegging the Cubs to break the all-time run differential record as they stood +104 with 205 runs scored and 101 allowed.

7-9

The Cubs aren't feeling the home cooking this year with just a 7-9 record at Wrigley Field (they went 13-5 through this point in 2016). Of course, the weather has been a factor, as 11 of the 16 games played at "The Friendly Confines" have come with the temperature below 50 degrees at first pitch.

The 2017 Cubs are 10-8 on the road, compared to their 13-3 mark away from home a year ago.

10-8

That's the Cubs' record against NL Central opponents, compared to the 14-2 mark they posted up against the division through the 2016's first six weeks.

Of course, the NL Central has gotten out to a hot start as the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers — both rebuilding — sit above .500 entering the weekend.

Ben Zobrist breaks down the 2017 Cubs so far

Ben Zobrist breaks down the 2017 Cubs so far

Just as the Cubs invested $155 million in Jon Lester to stabilize their pitching staff, Ben Zobrist has absolutely been the right player at the right time on the hitting side, setting an example with his patient approach, taking pressure off the rest of the lineup and driving away with a 50th anniversary edition convertible Camaro for his World Series MVP performance.

Zobrist commands respect in the clubhouse as a self-made player with an unselfish attitude who will turn 36 later this month and hasn’t slowed down yet. It’s hard to find a Cub with better big-picture perspective, given his roots in downstate Illinois, long journey from undrafted to All-Star, history with manager Joe Maddon and collection of World Series rings.

Zobrist doesn’t buy the target-is-bigger theory for the defending champs. It’s the new normal for a marquee team that went into Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field at 16-15 and in third place in the National League Central.

“It was pretty big last year as it was because of the moves in the offseason,” Zobrist said. “Everybody knows across the league how good we are, obviously, after watching last year. We’re kind of ‘the team’ to beat.

“If they’re going to beat any team – or say that they had a good series – they’re going to try to beat us. I think we’re getting everybody’s best. I felt like we were getting that in June last year, though.”

Zobrist has a unique ability to break down the team without overreacting or sugarcoating. He can criticize without making it personal and give context without making excuses.

As the Cubs faded last year – losing 15 of their last 20 games before the All-Star break – Zobrist explained the impact of a brutal schedule and how teams are “gunning for us” and suggested that trying to hit a Max Scherzer fastball 500 feet might not be a good idea.

When players started grumbling and second-guessing Maddon’s spring-training approach after the Cubs clinched the division title, Zobrist acknowledged the clubhouse frustration in a routine-oriented game and then pointed to the overall goal of staying fresh for October. 

Even if the Cincinnati Reds and Milwaukee Brewers have made strides in their rebuilding programs, how much faith do you have in those small-market teams playing .500 through September, much less adding at the trade deadline and winning 85-plus games?  

The Cubs possess the high-end talent and big-game experience to win playoff series, but a big idea behind this roster is having the redundancies and versatility to withstand the 162-game marathon.   

“We were exhausted,” Zobrist said, after playing 24 games in 24 days last summer. “But everybody it seemed like was throwing their best games and we were just kind of getting everybody’s best for that middle of the season. As the year wore on and everybody got tired, it was harder to keep pace with us, because we were just so deep.

“We’ve started this year a little bit – obviously – more tired than we were last year and these other teams are all geared up to play us. And it’s just taken us longer to kind of get it going and really answer the bell, so to speak.”

The pitching is an immediate concern and a long-term issue. Brett Anderson is on the disabled list again with an 8.18 ERA and Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are positioned to become free agents after this season. The Theo Epstein regime is still waiting to produce an impact homegrown pitcher.

But right now it’s hard to find a team more heavily and as successfully invested in offense. All the answers for this lineup will eventually have to come from within.

The Cubs have already played 13 one-run games, four that went into extra innings and five that ended in walk-off fashion. The Cubs have so far played only three games in a stadium with a roof (Miller Park) and zero in a warm-weather city. The first-pitch temperature at Wrigley Field has been 50 degrees or below 11 times through 16 home games.

“It’s tough to get bats going in any of that,” Zobrist said. “I think some of that’s just getting in the flow, kind of getting the feel of a new season.

“We’ll score a lot of runs (as) everybody gets hot. ‘KB’ (Kris Bryant) now is getting hot. (Anthony) Rizzo is going to get hot. All of us are going to get hot. And when it happens, it’s going to be scary how many runs we score.”

Cubs Road Ahead: Filling out the rotation

Cubs Road Ahead: Filling out the rotation

With Brett Anderson headed to the DL after an unspiring first month of the season, the Cubs are looking for options to fill out their largely struggling rotation.

Mike Montgomery said he's ready, while Eddie Butler could also be Joe Maddon's pick.

Montgomery has been stellar in 2017, holding a 1.17 ERA throuh 23 innings, though he has issued 14 walks.

Butler, who the Cubs traded for this past offseason, also sports a 1.17 ERA through 30.2 innings for AAA Iowa.

JJ Stankevitz and Cubs Insider Patrick Mooney discussed Maddon's options on the Cubs Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers. Take a look in the video above.