It is safe to say that the Chicago Cubs’ 2017 baseball season has gotten off to a sluggish start. The Cubs have had struggles on defense and at the plate coming out of the gate, as they are attempting to defend their World Series crown. After being in a haze for the first two months of the season, the Chicago Cubs appear to be waking up out of their season-long slumber. The Cubs are getting healthy against, of all teams the St. Louis Cardinals.
Saturday’s 5-3 victory over the Cardinals was the Cubs’ second in a row over their most hated rival. A grand slam (courtesy of CSN Chicago) from the struggling Kyle Schwarber was the highlight to the Cubs’ win.
Baseball teams often go through the motions a season after winning the World Series, with the Chicago Cubs not being an exception. The division the Cubs play in, the National League Central was supposed to be a cakewalk this season. Most of the team is intact, with only Dexter Fowler and Aroldis Chapman being the most significant players gone from the the Cubs’ World Series team. The Chicago Cubs have missed them both for different reasons.
Coming into today’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago Cubs was ranked No. 15 in batting average and No. 17 in OPS. That is a far cry from last season, where the Cubs were at the top or near the top of every offensive statistic. After waiting for two months for any sign of life, hints at potential changes have taken place.
Most of the young Cubs’ hitters have not played up to their expectations thus far. As of now, only Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are batting at.270 or above. Both Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have averages under.230. Schwarber’s case is more alarming than most, as he was inserted as the lead-off hitter (courtesy of The Ringer) for the Chicago Cubs on opening day.
Outfielder Jason Heyward, famous for his struggles at the plate last season is one of the few Cubs’ players who has played consistently well all year. His batting average has dramatically improved from his first year with the Cubs, to this year. But despites Heyward’s play at the plate, the problem is at the top of the order.
As far as the Chicago Cubs’ hitting goes, Dexter Fowler has been sorely missed. His ability to set the table for the Cubs was ideal. Fowler had all of the elements needed in a lead-off hitter — batting eye, patience, and speed. While Schwarber possess the first two attributes, he is nowhere near as fast rounded the bases as Dexter Fowler is. Even in a new era where teams are starting to go with sluggers at the top of their lineups, manufacturing runs is a lot easier with a base-stealing threat spearheading things.
The Chicago Cubs will not blame not having Dexter Fowler as the reason for their struggles on offense. Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon, instead acknowledged the loss of Fowler and others, but put the onus on his current players to produce.
“They were such a big part of what we’ve done the last couple of years. It’s hard to quantify what they did do, but you can have a pretty strong idea. The reality is they are not here. Other guys have to ascend. That’s either leadership within the group or younger guys growing up. That’s how this game works.”
What must happen is for the wins to pile up. That would instill confidence. After going 0-6 on a west coast trip, the Chicago Cubs needed to start their homestand strong. So far the Cubs have two wins against the Cardinals, which is grounds for a good beginning.
The Chicago Cubs are not fully in the clear yet regarding their slump. The Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies will visit the Cubs next for a total of seven games. If the Cubs can sweep the Cardinals and win five out of seven games against the Marlins and Rockies then fans can rest easier. Add to that some improvement from the young hitters and it will be safe to say that the Cubs slump is over.
[Featured Image by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images]