Fresh off of a 5-1 homestand, the Cubs lost back-to-back one-run games to the Indians in Cleveland on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Cubs record now sits at 15-17 on the season as they trail the St. Louis Cardinals by 4.5 games in the NL Central.
I'm never quite sure if I should start with the good or the bad takeaways, especially after a quick two-game sweep. In the spirit of having an off day ahead of the Cubs' next series against the Tigers, let's get the bad out of our system before Friday.
The Cubs hit a dismal 2-27 with runners in scoring position between the two games in Cleveland. That is quite remarkable -- albeit not in a positive manner -- but unfortunately it's become a trend for the Cubs during the first month and a half of the season. As a team in 2021, the Cubs are hitting .215 with RISP, which ranks 26th of 30 teams. In a series that saw pitchers hold the opponent to five total runs, the Cubs should have been able to come away with at least one win.
Kris Bryant exited Tuesday's game early because of breathing problems caused by sinus issues. He wasn't in the starting lineup on Wednesday after he "didn't sleep well," per manager David Ross. Bryant wanted to draw in the lineup, but with the off-day looming on Thursday, Ross thought it best that he take the extra time off to get well.
If that wasn't bad enough, Bryant entered the game with runners on in the seventh inning to pinch hit but suffered a left wrist contusion after being hit by a fastball.
The overall health of this Cubs team has been less than ideal to begin the 2021 season. Most of, if not all of the Cubs position players have missed at least one game due to injury. The Cubs' depth has been challenged with Ian Happ, Nico Hoerner, and Jake Marisnick on the ten-day injured list and backup catcher Austine Romine on the 60-day IL. The Cubs are extremely shorthanded right now, especially in the outfield. They will need players such as Eric Sogard, Illdemaro Vargas, Nick Martini, and potentially Tony Wolters to step up in the meantime.
While the final results may not reflect it, there were plenty of positive developments to come out of this two-game "setback" in Cleveland, starting with Joc Pederson.
Since returning from the injured list, Pederson is hitting a red hot 12-27, including three separate three-hit games. He recorded multiple hits against left-handed pitchers, which is important because he can secure an everyday spot in the outfield and offer production until Happ, Marisnick, and Hoerner return to the lineup.
Cubs' pitching fared well in Cleveland, allowing only 12 hits in the two games and walking just five batters, all of which came on Wednesday.
Adbert Alzolay turned in a strong performance on Tuesday by going six innings with six strikeouts and no walks, but the long ball hurt him as he allowed three runs on two home runs. Alzolay has displayed a high level of confidence in his slider and stuff as a whole on the mound and continues to improve every start.
The Cubs' bullpen covered a total of 6.1 innings while giving up only three walks and one run, which came from the extra-inning rule. Justin Steele and Brad Wieck were the most notable performers as both hurlers recorded high-leverage outs in close games. Wieck just received the call from the alternate training site on Tuesday and Steele is still finding his footing but has shown the ability to notch high-leverage outs.
Willson Contreras logged six hits in two games against the Indians and looks ready to break out of his 1-17 stretch that started on May 2nd. That resurgence in Cleveland raised his batting average from .208 to .250. The Cubs desperately need consistency from Contreras at the top of the order so Matt Duffy can slot lower in the lineup and help roll the card over to the Cubs' top hitters. All of the aforementioned elements contributed to success during the most recent homestand.
Getting Ready For Detroit
Barring any setback for Jake Arrieta, the big righty will open the series on Friday, according to Jordan Bastion of MLB.com. Trevor Williams and Kyle Hendricks are projected to start Games 2 and 3, respectively, vs. the Tigers.
The Tigers have yet to announce their starting pitchers against the Cubs, but as a team, they own the second-worst ERA in baseball at 5.11. Detroit also possesses the worst bullpen ERA at 6.79, so they are extremely vulnerable despite a recent three-game win streak.
In order to have success in Detroit this weekend, the Cubs will need to improve with RISP and get back to hitting the ball out of the park. If the pitching staff can limit opposing hitters how they did in Cleveland, the Cubs should be able to take advantage of an absymal Tigers bullpen.