Things we learned during the Cubs season-opening homestand
We witnessed quite an opening week at Wrigley Field, didn't we?
The home opener dawned bright and beautiful, and things deteriorated from there, with rain, high winds and finally Sunday's blizzard blast that postponed the scheduled game against the Los Angeles Angels.
The makeup date has yet to be determined, and the Chicago Cubs headed to the warmth of Miami for three games this week against the Marlins.
Here are some thoughts on what transpired at the old ballpark.
Pace of play:
Times of game were all over the place on the homestand. The opener was three hours, 12 minutes and then we had 3:10, 2:38, 2:29 and 3:56.
The Cubs have had four games that approached the 4-hour mark, and a couple of them were really fun to watch. Major League Baseball's initiatives on improving "pace of play" are all well and good, I suppose, but the game itself holds the keys.
Quick and crisply played games always are the ones in which the pitchers throw strikes, the hitters swing at strikes and the umpires call strikes. When those things don't happen, no amount of limiting mound visits or other gimmicks is going to help.
In the sub-three-hour games last week, Cubs starting pitchers Jose Quintana and Cole Hamels, along with the bullpen, combined to issue just 1 walk.
Speaking of walks:
For all the desire out there for the Cubs to sign reliever Craig Kimbrel, my question is this: Is he going to pitch innings 6-9?
Current Cubs closer Pedro Strop has 1 save so far, but that's because the Cubs are 5-9. Save chances haven't been there.
The real problem with the Cubs' bullpen occurs in the innings before the ninth. Cubs relievers not named Pedro Strop walked seven Angels (one intentionally) in Saturday's 6-5 loss, contributing to the nearly four-hour game.
The bullpen entered Sunday with 38 walks, worst in the major leagues. The relievers' WHIP of 1.76 had them tied for 27th, and the 6.00 ERA was 25th.
Fix that first.
Bryant and Schwarber:
Manager Joe Maddon gave slumping Kris Bryant the day off Saturday and did not use him as a pinch hitter late in the game.
Instead, Maddon went with rookie Mark Zagunis, who came up with a big 2-run single in the eighth. Interestingly, Maddon said Zagunis was better suited to pinch hit there because it's not a role to which Bryant is accustomed.
Bryant has bigger problems. His line is .231/.332/.365 for an OPS of .699. His OPS-plus (where league average is 100) is 80. His only home run of the season came Opening Day, March 28 at Texas. Most alarming for the Cubs has to be Bryant's groundball-flyball ratio of 1.73 and his groundball percentage of 51.4.
During Bryant's MVP season of 2016, the GB/FB ratio was 0.67, and his groundball percentage was 30.5.
As for Kyle Schwarber, one can understand his anger over being rung up on a checked-swing call to end Saturday's game and then getting ejected. In fairness to the umpires, the Angels would have argued if the call had gone the other way.
Schwarber's line is .192/263/.385 for an OPS of .648 and an OPS-plus of 63. He has 17 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances for a strikeout percentage of 29.8.
The good news for both Bryant and Schwarber is that it's still early in the season and the sample sizes are small, but the Cubs could use both to get it going soon.
New pitching plans:
The Cubs will skip right-hander Tyler Chatwood in the rotation at Miami. Chatwood was scheduled to start Sunday, taking the place of injured lefty Jon Lester. Against the Marlins, the Cubs will go with Yu Darvish, Quintana and Hamels Monday-Wednesday, respectively.