Title defense fell flat as the Chicago Cubs got off to a poor start to the 2017 season (by their standards/expectations) and played to a 40-40 record by the end of June. The Cubs eventually sorted things out in July, finished the season at 92-70, and won the National League Central by a commanding six games. The ride came to a screeching halt in the National League Championship Series with a 4-1 series loss to the LA Dodgers.
Despite everything, the second half of the season was huge for the Cubs with a 49-25 record and a +127 run differential, this compared to a 43-45 record and breaking even in run differential in the first half. Catcher Willson Contreras led the Cubs’ surge and hit .305 with 10 homers and a .586 slugging percentage in the second half. He did that in nearly half the amount of games that he played in the first half.
Aside from Contreras’ stellar offensive output, the Cubs were collectively average. Even with the struggles on the whole, Chicago was a patient team at the plate and finished second in the NL in walks, but sixth in strike outs. Third baseman Kris Bryant and first baseman Anthony Rizzo carried another large portion of the offensive load with 61 total homers, 182 combined RBIs, 210 runs scored, and a .283 combined batting average. When he wasn’t in the minors, outfielder Kyle Schwarber contributed with 30 dingers and 59 RBIs. The Cubs have enough offensive weapons that the rest of their firepower could be considered underachieving.
Pitching and defense was the bread and butter for the Cubs. The pitching staff threw to a 3.95 ERA and allowed 8.0 hits per nine innings. However, no Cubs pitcher logged more than 14 wins. After back-to-back outstanding seasons in 2015 and 2016, starter Jake Arrieta came back to Earth with a 3.53 ERA, his highest mark since 2013, and a 14-10 record, which was still the high mark in the starting rotation.
The Cubs finished fourth in the NL in runs allowed at 4.29 per game. With a pitching staff that didn’t allow many hits, there wasn’t a lot of stress put on the defense. When the ball was put in play, the Cubs did an excellent job of making outs with a defensive efficiency of .699, second in the NL.
As I mentioned before, the Cubs have found success primarily around their big three with complements from a few surrounding pieces. Bryant, Contreras, and Rizzo have done an outstanding job carrying this team with some help from Schwarber, but Chicago could use one more piece to shoulder the offensive load. Outfielder J.D. Martinez is still on the market and could provide a solid boost to the Cubs’ offense. (Note: Martinez signed with the Boston Red Sox hours after this was written.)
That being said, the Cubs have already made one splashy move to bring in starting pitcher Yu Darvish. Arrieta was granted free agency at the end of the 2017 season and the Cubs opted to let him walk. Darvish, though, is a solid upgrade given Arrieta’s step backward in 2017. The addition of Darvish could very well be the piece that keeps the Cubs on top of the NL Central.
Photo by Dave Curnow