Miami, FL-(ENEWSPF)- The Cubs (5-9), coming off a loss 6-5 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Saturday, ended with a questionable check-swing strikeout by Cubs’ left-fielder Kyle Schwarber to end the Northsiders rally and the game.
Tonight, the Cubs are in Miami to open a three-game series on Jackie Robinson Day to take on the Marlins (4-12) at Marlins Park with Yu Darvish (0-2 7.50) on the mound for the Cubs vs. Trevor Richards (0-1 2.00) for Miami. First pitch is scheduled for 6:05 PM.
Every player on every team will wear the number 42 today in honor of the late-Brooklyn Dodgers legend and Hall of Famer who, on this day in 1947, became the first African-American to play in an MLB game.
Despite the 5-9 start to the season, there have been some positives as of late.
First, Jason Heyward. The Cubs’ right-fielder hasn’t quite lived up to the 8yr/$184 million dollar contract that he signed with the ballclub back in December of 2015. Coming into this season, Heyward has posted a .251 batting average with 23 HR, and 165 RBI in three seasons on the north side. So far this season, it appears that he is finally starting to get back to the Heyward of old.
This season, he leads the club in batting average (.375) and OBP (.460). He has been the Cubs’ hottest hitter over the last six games with a .500 BA, 3 HR, and 5 RBI. In addition to that, the veteran right-fielder has gotten at least one hit in 8 of the 12 games that he has played in. So far, so good.
Cubs’ manager said of Heyward, “He’s been outstanding. I’ve not seen this. And I don’t even know that I’ve seen this as an opponent. Right now, the way he’s using his hands and the way the ball’s coming off hot, his balance, using the whole field, power, line-drives, everything about his game right now is first rate.”
Second, Willson Contreras. Contreras made his MLB debut in June of 2016 and was one of the key components in the Cubs’ World Series championship team that season. He had a good sophomore season in 2017 to follow up his rookie campaign where he posted career highs in HR (21) and RBI (74). 2018 didn’t treat the young backstop so well. With more paying time due to the retirement of fan favorite David Ross, Contreras posted career-lows in BA (.249), HR (10), and RBI (54) in 138-games. However, he has played strong defensively.
Contreras’ came into spring training this year with a different attitude and approach by saying, “I never lost the confidence and trust in myself. What happened last year stayed behind. We’re in the present. We’re in 2019, and my season, 2019, started during the offseason. I put my mind in the right place. I put my focus in the right place. When you try to make adjustments, and you make the adjustments, good things are going to happen. I was trying just to hit something in the air or hit a 1,000ft homer. Just put the barrel on the ball and let things happen.”
With his new-found mentality, the Cubs’ catcher is 2nd on the team with a .316 BA, 5HR(leads team), and 9 RBI. To go along with that, he leads the club in slugging %(.763) and OPS (1.198).
Overall, offensively the Cubs rank 2nd in batting average (.272), 3rd in on-base percentage (.359), 4th in slugging percentage (.461), and are averaging 6 runs a game.
Last, pitching. Collectively, one week ago, the Cubs had the worst pitching staff in all of MLB, where they had a team ERA of 8.92. Quality and impressive starts by Cole Hamels and Jose Quintana in their last starts helped the Northsiders to wins against Pittsburgh and the Los Angeles Angels. Jon Lester remains solid this season sporting a 2.57 ERA. Lester is currently on the 10-day injured list with a hamstring injury.
The bullpen, which struggled badly to open the season, has showed a lot of improvement. Their streak of 18 ⅔ consecutive scoreless innings streak was snapped on Saturday when Brad Brach and Randy Rosario combined for four walks. Two with the bases loaded. The bullpen wound up walking seven Angels on Saturday (one intentional). Walks were an issue for the team in 2018 and has carried over to his season. The bullpen has issued an MLB-worst 38 walks in 51-innings of work thus far.
Coming into today, the Cubs currently have a team ERA of 5.43 (13th in NL)
Maybe a series against a last-place Marlins team that ranks near the bottom of the National League in every major statistical category is just what the Cubs need to jump-start themselves and get in the hunt for another NL Central crown.
There are still 148 games left in the season.
We shall see.