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Wittenmyer: Forget the bats, keep eye on Cubs pitching originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
Six games into a six-month season, and they’re already getting nervous and angry at Wrigley Field.
One hit by the Cubs in the fourth inning Tuesday. One against Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff in seven innings Wednesday — and just two more the rest of the day in a 10-inning, 4-2 loss to the Brewers that dropped the Cubs to 3-3 as they finished their season-opening homestand.
The hitters are frustrated. They’re pulling out all stops — not to mention Ian Happ’s waffle makers out of storage.
Anthony Rizzo at one point even slammed his helmet to the ground after a strikeout Wednesday.
“But it’s still super early,” said left-fielder Joc Pederson, whose eighth-inning homer drove in the Cubs’ only run since Monday that didn’t involve the automatic freebie at second base to start extra innings.
But here’s the thing: Whether the new guy’s optimism proves to be well founded or a crock, it doesn’t matter.
Because if you’re looking at the lineup to make (or break) this Cubs season, you’re looking in the wrong place — and probably haven’t been paying attention to how this team strung together those six consecutive winning seasons it rode into this season.
As manager David Ross advised before Wednesday’s game: “Sit back; relax.”
Then ask yourself this: If somebody suggested before the season that this new-look, soft-tossing, built-on-the-cheap rotation could produce a collective 3.48 ERA and pitch at least six innings half the time would you have believed it?
Would you take it?
After Kyle Hendricks’ impressive bounce-back effort from his Opening Day clunker, that’s what the Cubs’ rotation looks like — with especially strong starts from veteran additions Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies and Trevor Williams in the Cubs’ three victories.
The bullpen has looked even better, led by dominant first-week performances from closer Craig Kimbrel and left-hander Andrew Chafin in particular.
“I’m super pleased with that,” Ross said of the six-game start by the pitching. “That’s something that’s going to need to be a strength of ours.”
And that’s the point.
The Cubs’ lineup is where all the big names, heavy hardware and contract-extension drama reside.
The rotation and the bullpen are where you’ll find the guys who determine the direction this 3-3 team winds up taking once they finally start playing somebody besides the Pirates and Brewers one of these weeks.
A 3.48 ERA doesn’t mean much six games into the season — never mind the 2.89 mark the last five games that represent the last full turn through.
But it’s at least a sign of “a lot of promise for us,” as Hendricks said Wednesday.
Can Arrieta stay healthy, Trevor Williams stay closer to 2018 form (than 2019-20 form) and Kimbrel stay on the rails?
Like Pederson said, “it’s still super early.”
They haven’t even played the Dodgers, Mets or Nationals yet — never mind those 19 games against Nick Castellanos and the new and improved Big Red Machine in Cincinnati.
But for a team that invited questions about its pitching all winter with the salary-dump trade of Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish, rejection of Jon Lester’s offer to return cheap for another year and late-winter bargain moves, the very, very early answers suggest at least as promising a contribution to run prevention as any .124-hitting lineup.
“It’s just got to all come together,” Hendricks said, sounding optimistic about the 3-3 start. “It’s a long year. … Our guys are going to be just fine.”
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