Morning Cubs Roundup: Lester battled through and the bullpen hopefully built some confidence
today at 7:23 am
Last Game: Cubs 2, Pirates 1 (11 Innings)
Up Next: Royals (3-7) @ Cubs (7-2): Duffy vs Mills, 7:15, Marquee
What a turnaround by Jon Lester. His stuff and command were lacking in the early going. The Pirates were running deep counts and getting good hacks against him and it looked like Lester might not make it past four innings as his pitch count skyrocketed.
Then, Lester dialed in his command. He began inducing weak contact early in counts, and even posted a few Ks as he willed his way to his second quality start. The two lineups he has faced to open the year have not been killers (the Reds were without Moustakas and Senzel), and there will be outings this year where the BABIP gods will be unkind to him, but never doubt Lester knows how to battle and get outs.
From there we saw the first signs of life from the bullpen. Four relievers combined to toss five shutout innings. We caught a glimpse of what drew the Cubs interest in each of the newcomers. It wasn’t an overpowering performance, they quartet recorded just three strikeouts between them, but it finally putting up some zeroes in the runs column of the ledger should give them something to build upon moving forward.
The bullpen did benefit from Kyle Schwarber’s strong right arm, Willson Contreras’s toughness, and some sloppy base running by the Pirates in extras. The Buccos didn’t capitalize on their chances with the new extra innings format despite putting good wood on the ball a few times.
Injuries, Updates, and Trends
Javy delivered the extra inning heroics but yesterday was not the offense’s finest day. In fact, it was the first game in which the offense failed to homer, and also the first time it failed to score at least three runs. The Cubs bats have truly been great overall though, as you can see by this graphic:
I don’t believe the Cubs will be as susceptible to offensive droughts this season.
We got to see glimpses of what drew the Cubs interest in each of the four relievers who worked yesterday.
Casey Sadler pitched over his head last year (2.19 ERA) as he relied on good command of a 93 mph sinker. But he also displayed tremendous spin rates on his curveball. That curve was not particularly effective last season, but it offered the Cubs reason to believe they could improve it, and give Sadler a way to miss more bats and not be reliant on getting ground ball outs. So far, the early returns are promising.
He is throwing his curve almost 40% of the time (up from about 27% in 2019). Already in the top 93% in terms of spin rate (2911) in 2019, he’s up it even further to over (3063). He’s getting far more vertical and horizontal movement compared to the average curveball. Small sample size caveats apply, but he’s generated 6 whiffs one the pitch over his last two outings.
For Dan Winkler, the key to success is his cutter. He throws it in the upper 80s and relies upon it heavily, especially against left-handed batters. Yesterday, he got 4 whiffs among the 10 he threw. I still don’t have a good read on Winkler’s breaking ball or fastball, but he at least has one pitch he can use to get outs.
The Pirates made some hard contact against both Ryan Tepera and Jeremy Jeffress in extra innings, but both have found a go to pitch. Tepera’s slider/cutter and Jeffress’s splitter are both getting good results so far. Jeffress has not rediscovered his lost velo yet, but all of his pitches are generating good movement. It often may not be pretty, but I do think he can continue getting some big outs for this team.
High leverage: Jeffress, Ryan?, Wick?
Shaky, but trending in right direction: Ryan?, Wick?, Tepera, Sadler, Winkler, Brothers?, Underwood Jr.?
There’s hope, but not earning it: Brothers?, Underwood Jr. ?, Steele
We gotta pitch somebody: Rea
Need a 3(5?)+ run cushion: Kimbrel
- DH count: Caratini 4, Contreras 2, Schwarber 1, Kipnis 1, Phegley 1
- What did everyone think of the new extra innings format?
Morning Cubs Roundup