Cubs by the numbers at the All-Star break

Cubs by the numbers at the All-Star break

The Cubs started 2019 2-7 with a league-worst 7.51 ERA through April 7. 

Then they went 23-7 with a 2.29 ERA (both tops in the Majors) from April 8 through May 14.

Since then, they have been 22-29 with a 4.66 ERA (16th in MLB – right in the middle of the pack).

This is the kind of season it has been. And yet they maintain first place in the NL Central by a slim half-game margin.

One of the biggest criticisms of the team to this point has been the hitting with runners in scoring position. Their .249 batting average with runners in scoring position is 24th in MLB. But that’s not the real problem. The biggest concern is the lack of opportunities with RISP.

Cubs with RISP – last five seasons

  AVG with RISP MLB rank Plate appearances with RISP MLB rank
2015 .236 28 1,627     4
2016 .252 21 1,788     2
2017 .253 19 1,671     4
2018 .247 20 1,686     3
2019 .249 24 839         18

A team with an abundance of chances with runners in scoring position will eventually get their runs, even if their batting average in those situations may not be the best.

The home runs, though…

The Cubs hit a franchise record 140 home runs before the All-Star Break. “Before the All-Star Break” records aren’t the best, though, since the number of games teams have played before the break has fluctuated historically. However, if you were to put it all on a level playing field by finding home runs through the first 90 games of the season (as the Cubs have played 90 games thus far), Joe Maddon’s 2019 North Siders have hit 15 more through 90 games than any other team in franchise history.

Furthermore, FIVE Cubs have at least 15 home runs through 90 games (and Jason Heyward has 14).

Most Cubs with 15+ home runs through the team’s first 90 games of a season

5 2019 Báez, Rizzo, Contreras, Schwarber, Bryant
4 2008 Soto, Soriano, Ramírez, Lee
3 2004 Alou, Sosa, Ramírez
3 1999 Sosa, Rodríguez, Hill
3 1987 Dawson, Durham, Moreland
3 1967 Santo, Banks, Williams
3 1958 Banks, Walls, Moryn
3 1950 Pafko, Sauer, Smalley

Too many home runs?

Speaking of home runs, another criticism of the Cubs this season is that they score too many runs via the home run. Do they? Well, the MLB average of percentage of runs scored via home run is 44.7 percent.  The Cubs are above that, at 48.4 percent. What’s good? Where do you want to be on such a list?

Where every team falls on the percentage of runs via the home run:

MLB teams ranked by percentage of runs scored via home run

1. Brewers 55.6 percent
2. Blue Jays 52.9 percent
3. Padres 52.5 percent
4. Mariners 51.1 percent
5. Astros 50.4 percent
6. Twins 49.9 percent
7. A's 48.8 percent
8. Cubs 48.4 percent
9. Dodgers 48.1 percent
10. Yankees 48.1 percent
11. Reds 47.8 percent
12. Orioles 46.1 percent
13. Braves 46 percent
14. Mets 46 percent
15. Nationals 45.5 percent
16. Angels 45.3 percent
17. White Sox 44.2 percent
18. Rangers 42.9 percent
19. Cardinals 42.5 percent
20. Diamondbacks 42.2 percent
21. Rays 41.4 percent
22. Phillies 40 percent
23. Pirates 39.6 percent
24. Red Sox 38.9 percent
25. Rockies 38.6 percent
26. Indians 38.1 percent
27. Giants 37.9 percent
28. Tigers 36 percent
29. Royals 35.9 percent
30. Marlins 33.7 percent

Of course there are a few outliers, but it’s fairly clear that better teams are towards the top of this list and lesser teams are at the bottom. The Cubs are in a cluster of teams that include the Astros, Twins, A’s, Dodgers, and Yankees. You’d much rather be there than among teams like the Giants, Tigers, Royals and Marlins. The teams on the bottom of the list are there because they don’t hit enough home runs. Home runs are the most efficient way to score runs. The Cubs score too many runs via the home run? Nonsense.

Cubs pitching so far this season in eight bulletpoints

  • There have been 210 starts made this season in MLB (including one by “opener” Joakim Soria) by pitchers 35 or older. 34 of them (16.2 percent) have been by Cubs – 17 apiece by Cole Hamels and Jon Lester. Those two veteran lefties have combined for a solid 3.34 ERA, though Hamels is likely to miss at least a few more weeks with an oblique injury.
  • On consecutive days, the Cubs had starters make 81 pitches. On May 3, Kyle Hendricks did so in tossing a nine-inning complete game shutout. The next day, Yu Darvish completed four innings and pitched into the fifth inning, also throwing 81 pitches.
  • Kyle Hendricks has a 3.49 ERA and a 127 ERA+ (27 percent better than league average). He has made over 1,400 pitches this season. Four of them were 90 mph or more. Enjoy him, they don’t make them like that anymore.
  • José Quintana has been good, he has been bad. Overall, he has been in-between (actually, a 4.19 ERA and 106 ERA+ which means he has been slightly above average). He has four starts of six+ scoreless innings. The only other lefty with that many is Hyun-Jin Ryu (six such starts).
  • While Quintana has had four scoreless starts of 6+ innings, Yu Darvish has had four quality starts. He has made 18 starts, so that’s four of 18 (22.2 percent quality starts), which isn’t ideal. He has had a start with no walks and 11 strikeouts. He has had a start with seven walks and four strikeouts. He has had one decision (a loss) out of his last dozen starts. You see flashes of greatness, but they don’t last.
  • It’s the All-Star break and Brandon Kintzler still hasn’t allowed a run at Wrigley Field: 19 games, 19 2/3 innings, seven hits, no runs at home thus far.
  • Cubs have the second best home ERA in MLB (3.26)… and the 22nd best road ERA (4.97) which mirrors their performance as a team. 29-16 at home (fifth best record in MLB), 18-27 on the road (25th best record in MLB)

Those comments are a mixed bag of randomness, which is an accurate depiction of how the Cubs have performed so far.

In case you’re interested in simply looking at the numbers, here they are below:

Cubs this season

    MLB rank
Record 47-43 t-12
Run Differential +55 9
Runs/game 5.06 12
BA .254 15
HR 140 9
OBP .336 7
SLG .452 8
ERA 4.09 8
Starter ERA 4.02 8
Reliever ERA 4.20 11
Starter WHIP 1.287 13
Reliever WHIP 1.385 18
Strikeout percentage 22.6 percent 16
Inherited runner scoring percentage 31.1 percent 13

Cubs Through 90 games

2018 52-38 453 97 354 768 .264 .344 .425 3.86 3.04 1.345 1.275 21.5 percent 27.7 percent
2019 47-43 455 140 345 812 .254 .336 .452 4.02 4.20 1.287 1.385 22.6 percent 31.1 percent
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Cubs' 'super frightening' close call in St. Louis shows how fragile season is

Cubs' 'super frightening' close call in St. Louis shows how fragile season is

All the Cubs wanted before leaving for the ballpark in St. Louis on Friday was “just reassurance” before playing one of the two teams in the majors that had endured a major COVID-19 outbreak.

“And they assured us they were going to communicate every detail of why we should be on the field,” Cubs manager David Ross said.

Ross spoke Saturday morning via Zoom from Chicago — that fact itself a reminder of the details that started pin-balling from all the wrong directions Friday morning.

“It’s just another one of those reminders of how quick things can get out of control right now in this environment,” said Ross, whose team learned early enough to avoid even showing up at Busch Stadium and to reschedule its charter to land at O’Hare before 8 p.m. Friday.

Ross called the communication from Major League Baseball and the Cardinals “outstanding.”

But he paused when asked about just how close their near-miss with the coronavirus was this weekend.

As in: What if the three Cardinals who tested positive Friday (after reportedly being exposed Wednesday) hadn’t gotten their positive results until Saturday instead — after spending Friday night in the same building and on the field with the Cubs?

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“I hadn’t looked at it like that,” Ross said. “It shows how fast it can get out of control. That part of the virus is super frightening.”

At least two of the 16 Cardinals players and staff known to have tested positive in the last 10 days are said to have symptoms, the severity of which are unclear.

But even beyond that reminder of the health-risk roll of the dice for each individual (and his family), Friday’s close call for the Cubs underscores just how fragile baseball’s attempt at a two-month season is.

“We send our best to the Cardinals and those players. It’s a scary time,” Ross said, “and we all want baseball to move forward and guys to be healthy.”

The Cubs are the only team in the league, through at least Friday, who have not had a player test positive.

Two teams, including the Marlins, already have had major outbreaks, with the Cardinals into their second week of postponed series and sleepless nights for their president of baseball operations.

“I don’t know what really our future looks like at this point,” Cards president John Mozeliak said, according to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Experts who we consulted with gave us advice that we could take that next step forward. I don’t know what the right answer is. Is it two days? Is it five days? Is it 10 days? Or is it two weeks?

“The whole country, the whole world, is facing these same questions. We’re just caught in the middle of it.”

Along with everybody else in baseball.

The Cardinals have played only five games, and their next series, against Pittsburgh, reportedly is on the verge of being postponed as well.

The Cubs’ next opponent, Cleveland, has 16 games in the books with Saturday’s game against the White Sox.

Fifty days remain in the scheduled 60-game season after Saturday.

The 10-3 Cubs have it better than most, even with the lost series against the Cardinals — a postponement that for now looks more like a cause to celebrate than for disappointment.

But what does the league do if the virus doesn’t allow the Cardinals to play by the end of the week? And what if a third team — or a fourth — experiences an outbreak.

And just how close did the Cubs come to becoming that third team if they had played a game or two of that series with asymptomatic, infected Cardinals unwittingly on the same field.

When the Cardinals’ outbreak initially unfolded while the team was in Milwaukee last weekend, one result was Brewers star center fielder Lorenzo Cain becoming one of four players in a two-day span to opt out of playing the rest of the season.

RELATED: Tracking MLB players who have opted out or declined to play

“It’s 2020, where we know we’ve got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “We’ve talked about that from the start.”

The Cubs and almost everybody in the league — including Mozeliak’s Cardinals — seem to have taken the health risk and hyper-contagious nature of COVID-19 seriously enough for most of the schedule to be played so far.

The Cardinals, in fact, invested in equipment years ago they have used since to sanitize visiting clubhouses on the road ahead of players occupying them.

The Cubs have exceeded MLB standard safety protocols with impressive enough results that other teams have reached out to discuss their methods.

And yet the Cardinals’ season hangs by a thread. And the Cubs, for all their precautions, might have sidestepped direct exposure by a matter of a few hours, a few reliable tests, and luck.

By extension, if not by definition, the league’s season also hangs by a thread.

“I think we all know that this season is just really a year of who can adjust to a little bit of adversity and some change,” Ross said. “And that’s going to be throughout the season. We know that. And we’ll continue to push forward.”


How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

How David Ross plans to keep Cubs 'sharp' after Cardinals series postponed

One phone call Friday morning set in motion a reversal of the Cubs’ weekend plans. Instead of battling the Cardinals in a three-game series at Busch Stadium, they were heading home to Chicago and had four off days to fill before their next game.

“I think it's a little bit of a reset for us,” Cubs manager David Ross said Saturday, “ … and we’ve got continue to try to stay as sharp as we possibly can, get back to maybe work on a few things we might want to clean up in this downtime, and use it to our advantage as best we can.”

With the Cubs’ weekend series against the Cardinals postponed, due to three more members of the Cardinals organization testing positive for COVID-19, Ross said he gave the Cubs position players the option to take Saturday off. For the pitchers, it was a light workout day, a chance to throw a bullpen.

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The Cubs plan to play a simulated game Sunday and have a “fun” competition on Monday, Ross said.

Other aspects of the Cubs’ path forward remain unclear, like when will they make up the postponed series. And even more pressing, which pitcher will start on Tuesday at Cleveland?

Ross said he and his coaches have talked about how the schedule adjustment will affect the starting rotation, but there are still discussions to be had with the pitching staff.

Left-hander Jon Lester, who was supposed to start on Friday, was among those scheduled to throw a bullpen session Saturday.

“Jon especially, a veteran guy, knows how to take care of himself and knows how to back off or give a little more,” Ross said. “…There's no substitute for competition. I think we all know that. And getting out there against another jersey is important. It is important to stay sharp, physically and mentally, and staying ready. But we have a ton of professionals.”

He pointed to the almost four months of off time between the cancellation of Spring Training and the start of the regular season.

 Kyle Hendricks, for example, prepared for the accelerated summer camp so well that he threw a complete game on Opening Day. Any reshuffling of the rotation’s schedule couldn’t be nearly as much of a challenge.

“It's 2020, where we know we've got to take it one day at a time,” Ross said. “… We were planning to play St. Louis, they told us we weren't, so we came home and we adjusted. And we'll do that as best we can to continue this season.”

Ross had been hoping for a different kind of phone call on Friday morning. The Cardinals traveling party produced no new positive COVID-19 tests for consecutive days before MLB cleared the team to return to St. Louis and resume their schedule. The week prior, 13 players and staff members had tested positive.

“Going into it, with all that was going on, we were hoping to hear some news that morning, or just a reassurance,” Ross said, “and they had assured us that they were going to communicate every detail of why they thought we should be on the field.”

Instead, the Cubs received word that Friday’s game had been postponed. Ross described Major League Baseball’s communication as “outstanding.”

The Cubs support staff adjusted on the fly. Director of Major League travel and clubhouse operations Vijay Tekchandani contacted United Airlines to set up a return flight. Team dietitian Jordan Brown arranged for meals at the hotel that weren’t originally on the schedule.

“A lot of adjustments on their part,” Ross said, “and making sure everybody was comfortable and had some downtime but had some space to just get out of their room.”

Tekchandani had chosen a hotel with an outdoor patio that the players could use without running into other hotel guests and while practicing social distancing.

Around 5 p.m., the team learned that the rest of the series had been canceled. Less than an hour later, a bus was at the hotel to take the Cubs to the airport. They were back in Chicago before 8 p.m..

“Everybody was good yesterday,” Ross said of the players. “If I go back to my playing days, no matter what, you kind of welcome an off day in the middle of a long stretch. So, the first off day is always nice, nice and relaxing.”

The Cubs were off to a 10-3 start, in what was originally scheduled to be 17 straight games without an off day. Between a rainout in Cincinnati and the COVID-19 related postponement this weekend, that hasn’t been the case.

Now, the Cubs face a different kind of challenge: carrying momentum through a weekend off.