Baseball seasons are full of ups and downs, as teams ride the emotional rollercoaster that features long winning-streaks and short stretches of mediocrity.
If you look at the Cubs’ schedule, you’ll notice that the team is in its third such stretch of the 2019 season. After starting 3-8, the Cubs climbed from the NL Central basement, taking over first place in the divison with a 22-6 stretch from April 11-May 14.
Since May 14, though, a game in which Kyle Hendricks dazzled on the mound, the Cubs have been in a bit of a downturn, struggling during a 16 games in 16 days stretch.
In their last 13 games, the Cubs are 5-8. So, what’s changed for the team between these two stretches? Look no further than how the starting rotation has fared during both periods. From FanGraphs:
April 11-May 14:
2.21 ERA (No. 1 in MLB), 175 1/3 IP (No. 4), 53 walks (T-No. 13), 170 strikeouts (T-No. 7), .202/.267/.308 (Nos. 1, 2, 1)
May 15-May 28:
6.12 ERA (No. 26 in MLB), 67 2/3 IP (No. 7), 24 walks (No. T-20), 65 strikeouts (no. 9), .323/.375/.503 (Nos. 30, 30, 25)
Here's how Cubs starting pitchers have fared individually over those two periods:
April 11-May 14:
- Jon Lester (four starts): 24 2/3 innings, 0.36 ERA (four runs, one earned) two walks, 25 strikeouts
- Cole Hamels (six starts): 38 2/3 innings, 2.33 ERA (12 runs, 10 earned), 14 walks, 40 strikeouts
- Kyle Hendricks (six starts): 42 innings, 2.14 ERA (12 runs, 10 earned), five walks, 33 strikeouts
- Jose Quintana (six starts): 39 1/3 innings, 2.29 ERA (10 runs, 10 earned), eight walks, 35 strikeouts
- Yu Darvish (five starts): 24 2/3 innings, 4.38 ERA (12 runs, 12 earned), 22 walks, 34 strikeouts
May 15-May 28:
- Jon Lester (two starts): 8 1/3 innings, 9.72 ERA (12 runs, nine earned) two walks, eight strikeouts
- Cole Hamels (three starts): 13 innings, 7.62 ERA (11 runs, 11 earned), nine walks, 11 strikeouts
- Kyle Hendricks (two starts): 11 2/3 innings, 5.40 ERA (seven runs, seven earned), three walks, 13 strikeouts
- Jose Quintana (three starts): 16 1/3 innings, 4.41 ERA (nine runs, eight earned), five walks, 10 strikeouts
- Yu Darvish (three starts): 18 1/3 innings, 5.40 ERA (11 runs, 11 earned), five walks, 23 strikeouts
Granted, the individual numbers are bloated in the second time span because the sample size is smaller. In terms of the overall numbers, though, the rotation's No. 7 rankings in innings pitched since May 15 is deceiving. Cubs starting pitchers have only pitched six or more innings four times during the current stretch. Yu Darvish’s May 25 start is one of the four (he pitched seven innings), but he allowed six runs on 12 hits on 108 pitches.
In fairness, the Cubs have been one of MLB’s more unlucky teams lately. Opponents hold a whopping .383 batting average on balls in play against the Cubs since May 15. Not only is this No. 1 in baseball, but it’s nearly 100 points higher than the MLB average of .293.
Still, the numbers are what they are, and the numbers show five starting pitchers with ERAs of at least 4.41 during this stretch. The sample size is extremely small compared to a 162 game season, but the 5-8 record raises a few eyebrows.
On the flip side, Cubs relievers hold a 4.34 ERA (tied for No. 12 in MLB) since May 15, blowing five saves and picking up three losses in the process. Without Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop, the Cubs rotation has less room for error.
Cubs relievers have received a lot of flak this season, much of which has been fair. However, the bullpen has been overworked lately because of the starting rotation has put together many short outings. In fact, Darvish only pitched into the eighth inning on May 25 to spare the bullpen.
It’s unfair to expect a starting rotation to be perfect and carry a pitching staff for an entire season. It’s also unfair to expect a bullpen to pitch 47 2/3 innings across 13 games. The Cubs need to find a middle ground, and that middle ground starts with the rotation getting back closer to where it was throughout April and in early May.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.