“The Cubs are playing bad baseball, let’s all panic and freak out,”… is an opinion that, while popular, you should not buy into. Their 18-19 start that has stuck them in fourth place in the National League Central, 3.5 games behind the rival St. Louis Cardinals, has caused some fans to want to lose all faith in this team. While that’s a completely normal response, it’s also the wrong one.
I could take the time and explain to you how skilled this team is and the very low mathematical probability that every Cubs’ player continues to struggle as they are for the rest of the season, but that’s not what this article is about.
Let’s just keep this in perspective; streaks happen in baseball, whether good or bad. The 2016 Cubs had an 18-20 record from June 1 to the All-Star Break. They also won 103 games, and the World Series.
Just calm down, everyone. And, hey, what better team to face in the Cubs’ current state than the Reds, who the North Siders’ are 30-11 against since the start of the 2015 season.
Previewing the Cubs
I just espoused confidence in the Cubs’ future, but that doesn’t change the fact that they aren’t playing at their potential. The offense, specifically, has seen a steep drop across all kinds of statistics.
Newcomer Ian Happ is off to a scorching start, hitting .429 and slugging 1.000, but the collective lineup, with a plethora of injuries, has lost its early season excitement; they own the fourth-worst batting average and slugging percentage in the N.L.
While the offense has been suffocating, the starting pitching staff has shown signs of life, signs that will hopefully continue this weekend. Kyle Hendricks had a 6.19 ERA after three horrible starts to begin 2017, but has since tossed three quality starts and completed two shutout starts. Expect another Cy-le-esque performance this week.
John Lackey, also going this week, got the win in one of the Cubs’ two victories since May 4, but remains win-less at home, where visiting teams are batting .286 against him. The most important tool in his arsenal is his ability to last into the late innings of games, as he’s averaging an team-leading six innings per start. Recently, though, Lackey hasn’t been the only starter on the mound past the fifth inning. Over the past week, Cubs starters have lasted 7, 6.1, 6, 5.2, and 6 innings.
This has given much-needed relief to a sore and tired bullpen, which, ironically, has not been on its game lately; the unit surrendered at least one run in five of their six games. While long-term success requires a fully functioning squad, the way the Cubbies have been playing might be sufficient to get back into the win column against the Reds.
Previewing the Reds
They’re 19-18, a much better mark than most predicted, but have been nothing short of streaky. After facing the Cubs April 21-23, Cincinnati has seen stretches with records of 0-4, 9-2, and 0-3. They’re coming off of a series against the San Francisco Giants in which they won the opener, but, after dropping the second match in 17 innings, didn’t win again.
Cubs pitching will need to use caution around the middle of the Reds’ lineup, as it packs a powerful punch. With perennial All-Star Joey Votto (batting .291 with 10 homers), hot-hitters Eugenio Suárez (batting .295) and Zack Cozart (batting .336), the powerful duo of Adam Duvall (9 homers) and Scott Schebler (10 homers), and the ever-threatening speedster Billy Hamilton leading manager Bryan Price‘s lineup, the danger is obvious.
Pitching-wise, is veteran Bronson Arroyo using black magic? Despite giving up multiple runs every time on the mound, the Reds have won his last five starts, including when he surrendered two to the Cubs over six innings in April.
Lisalverto Bonilla is another name of interest. Bonilla had a brief stint with the Texas Rangers in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery and hopping around multiple minor league systems. He started for the first time in three years last week against the Giants and only allowed three runs over eight innings.
He did, however, face the Cubs in a bullpen appearance last month (remember that one game when both teams scored a bazillion runs?) and got rocked for four runs over five relief innings. These Reds have shown that they’re more of a threat than normal, but, hopefully, shouldn’t pose a massive threat to the Cubs.
How to Pay Attention
Tuesday, May 16 7:05 p.m. / CSN-C / AM 670 The Score
Wednesday, May 17 7:05 p.m. / WGN / AM 670 The Score
Thursday, May 18 1:20 p.m. / CSN-C / AM 670 The Score
My Homer Prediction
Bryant returns to the lineup rested and continues to terrorize the Reds, hitting two homers and pushing the Cubs to an uncommon win. The offense rides this momentum and Hendricks throws seven scoreless to clinch the Cubs’ first series win since the first week of May, and Lester’s perfect game completes the sweep. The defending champs get their mojo back.