The Cubs started the season 2-7. They have been 23-7 since. The offense has done the job, but the biggest difference has been the pitching. When they started 2-7 on a nine-game road trip, the team ERA was a league-worst 7.51. Then they arrived at Wrigley Field for their home opener. And everything changed.
From April 8 (the home opener) on, the Cubs have a team ERA of 2.29. Best in the Majors by nearly a full run (the Rays are next with 3.22). The starting pitching has a 2.32 ERA – best in the Majors; the next best is the Rays at 2.74. The relief pitching has a 2.24 ERA – also best in the Majors; the next best is the Astros at 2.96. Best in baseball across the board.
More details of their dominance over the last 30 games:
- .200 opponent batting average is tops in the Majors (Astros are second at .206)
- 21 home runs allowed are seven fewer than the next lowest total (Rays – 28)
- Six shutout wins are the most in the Majors.
- The Cubs bullpen has allowed 19.1% (9 of 47) of inherited runners to score, second only to the Diamondbacks (an incredible 7.1%).
Their 2.29 ERA over their past 30 games is better than the 2.48 ERA the 2016 Cubs posted during their 24-6 start to the 2016 season. In fact, the 2.29 ERA over the past 30 games is better than any 30-game span by the 2016 Cubs (their best was a 2.38 ERA in the 30 games after the All-Star break).
As I mentioned earlier, the Cubs arrived at Wrigley Field on April 8 for the home opener with a miserable league-worst 7.51 ERA. But it wasn’t because of Jon Lester. He had consecutive quality starts of 6 innings and 2 earned runs during the season-opening 9-game road trip. If you subtracted Lester’s numbers over that road trip, the Cubs team ERA goes from 7.51 to 8.37. So Lester was one of few bright spots. And he looked like it, tossing two scoreless innings… until a hamstring injury knocked him out of the game. He ended up missing two starts. So, with your best pitcher out, now what?
What happened was Brad Brach, Brandon Kintzler, Randy Rosario & Pedro Strop combined for an improbable 7 scoreless innings. And they were off to the races.
Jon Lester returned on April 25. Adding on the two scoreless innings from the home opener, Lester has posted a 0.34 ERA in 26.2 innings since the disastrous 2-7 start to the season. His season ERA is 1.16 – easily the lowest of any pitcher with 30+ innings this season.
For the season, Kyle Hendricks isn’t far behind with 2.86. And keep in mind that includes a 7-earned run clunker on April 26 in Arizona. In May, he has been unreal. He has a 0.36 ERA and a 0.520 WHIP in 25 innings over three starts. With that level of dominance, I can’t help but point out that he threw 274 pitches in those three starts, and none of those 274 topped 90 miles an hour. In fact, only two of those pitches touched even 89 miles an hour – a pair of deliveries on May 8th which registered 89.0 and 89.3 MPH. He’s an artist.
Combined in May, the Cubs are 6-0 in games started by either Lester or Hendricks. Lester & Hendricks have posted a combined 0.20 ERA in 44.2 innings over that span.
José Quintana has chipped in with a 2.29 ERA in 6 starts over the 30-game stretch of dominance, and you barely heard about it because Lester & Hendricks have been so good. Same with Cole Hamels and his 2.33 ERA in 6 starts of his own.
Meanwhile Yu Darvish has continued to struggle, pitching to a 4.80 ERA over the Cubs 23-7 run, but due to solid damage control by Joe Maddon, the Cubs have won 4 of his 6 starts, and the two losses could just as well be chalked up to poor run support (they scored 2 and 0 runs). There has been flashes of brilliance (He has 44 strikeouts in 36.2 innings overall this season), but the walks have limited his effectiveness.
Cubs detractors & pessimists alike have been pointing to the fact that over the 23-7 span they went 6-1 with a 1.38 ERA against the 10-30 Miami Marlins. Sure. They’re 10-2 with a 1.64 ERA over that span against teams currently under .500. Fine.
But against teams that are currently over .500, they have been 13-5 with a 2.71 ERA. To repeat, that’s 13-5 with a 2.71 ERA against teams over .500 over the last 30 games. It’s not just beating up against the teams in the basement.
Obviously, this run of excellence won’t last forever. It didn’t last all season in 2016. But a run like this allows the bullpen a little extra rest, takes a little pressure off the offense and has pushed the Cubs to a 2.5 game cushion in the NL Central.