Chicago Cubs 1/5 Complete 2020 Season Evaluation: Pitching

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Believe it or not, the 2020 Major League Baseball season is 1/5 complete already. Or at least it is for the Chicago Cubs, who sport the best record in the National League at 10-2. The only other team, in all of baseball, to match that winning percentage is the Minnesota Twins, who are also 10-2. MLB handicappers did not see this coming, as the Cubs didn’t even reach the postseason last year, and they only made the one-off quasi-playoff round the year before that.

The Cubs have a 4.5 game atop the NL Central division, and the team closest to them, the Milwaukee Brewers, will be without one of their key pieces the rest of the way as outfielder Lorenzo Cain has opted out of the season.

So the Cubs are in really great shape right now, especially given the expanded postseason format this year, in which even very mediocre and utterly blah or meh teams will qualify.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, the causes for alarm and the reasons for hope, from a pitching standpoint (we’ll do the hitting side when we reach a quarter of the way through the season, after all it’s just three games), as the Chicago Cubs now move to a much more difficult portion of the schedule.

2020 Chicago Cubs 20% Complete Evaluation Report

Surprising in a Good Way

Tonight sees the Tyler Chatwood take the bump as the Cubs go for the exceedingly rare double series sweep, home and road, back to back against the same team. 2020 is weird y’all. How weird? Chatwood comes in as the ace of the staff, he’s second in the NL, fourth in MLB with a 0.79 ERA.

He also has 19 Ks, as he’s gone 2-0 in his two starts on the young (but also substantially progressed) season.

Meanwhile Alec Mills is living up to his nickname as “the adjunct,” as in the adjunct professor because Kyle Hendricks is of course the full Prof. (with tenure at the institution). Mills is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA, while Lester sports a 0.82 earned run average. Yu Darvish is sitting at 2.12 while Hendricks is at 3.54. So now having taken two turns around the rotation, the Cubs are looking extremely strong, starting pitching wise.

Yet they still sit only 10th in the senior circuit in overall ERA and 14th in home runs allowed…hhmmmm…I wonder why that could be.

The Kimbrel Disaster and the Suspect Bullpen

Kimbrel may still have his velocity, and no, apparently he is not tipping his pitches. Yes, he’s had a fine a career, but the dude is washed. If you didn’t realize it in 2019, when he was absolute train wreck during that critical final home series against St. Louis (he also had an ERA of 6.53 last season), then surely, you see it by now.

He’s sitting on an ERA of 32.40 and no saves in three appearances as of this writing. His trademark arm hanging out there pose is certainly intimidating when he’s effective. But when he’s disastrous, as he is right now, the hanging arm thing is just goofy and annoying.

So who should close then? Well, Rowan Wick has saves and hasn’t given up a run yet in four appearances. Colin Rea was impressive last night and Kyle Ryan also has a save to his credit, although he’s also been pounded.

Then there’s Jeremy Jeffress, who also matches Rea in Wick in not having surrendered a run yet this year. He also leads the team in holds with three. (Kimbrel actually has two by the way) Jeffress boasts a 4-1 K-BB ratio and a 0.17 WHIP.

Maybe he’s the set-up guy/8th inning pitcher and not the closer. Maybe he should be the closer? Maybe we should do some five out and six out saves sometimes? Can’t understand why you would want to go away from Jeffress right now when he has the hot hand.

I don’t know it’s really all up for grabs, as the bullpen is the weakest link, by miles actually, of this Chicago Cubs team. At the end of the day though, all wins count the same, no matter the run differential.

So while Cub fans all over the world are united in their anxiety and sometimes just plain hatred of the bullpen, everything else is more or less clicking.

The Chicago Cubs have the best record in baseball, so there is a lot to talk about other than how awful the bullpen is.

Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News NowBanks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TVSports IllustratedChicago Now and SB Nation.

You can follow Banks, a former writer for Chicago Tribune.comon Twitter and his cat on Instagram.

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