The Cubs need a sense of urgency in upcoming homestand
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
CHICAGO -- Coming off another series defeat in St. Louis, the Cubs now look ahead to a pivotal 10-game homestand at Wrigley Field. With the Cubs still struggling to piece together consecutive wins, the homestand presents an opportunity to get themselves back on track and to start playing some winning baseball. Before a three game set with the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday, the Cubs will receive a much needed day off. The team has scuffled of late in no small part due to the health issues they have dealt with. Jason Heyward has spent much of the last week on the disabled list, while Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist, Jon Jay and Kris Bryant have also missed time due to injuries or illness. The loss of key run producers in the lineup, added to the extended slumps of Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, have resulted in a struggle to put up runs, highlighted by being shutout in the final game of the Cardinals series. A day of rest could work wonders to get the lineup back up and running at full health. After a day to reset and refocus, the Cubs will turn their attention to righting the ship at Wrigley.
The Cubs should enter this week with a bit of urgency to win some games and climb back up the standings. While it’s still early in the season, the Cubs do not want to fall into a deep hole in the standings before the summer starts. They open the homestand against the Reds, then host the Milwaukee Brewers for three games and finish up by having the San Francisco Giants for four games at Wrigley Field. The Reds and Brewers both sit just above the Cubs in the National League Central standings after decent starts to the season. The Cubs have the chance to win consecutive series and jump right back into second place where only the Cardinals will be blocking them from first place. The Cubs are clearly far more talented than the Reds and Brewers making it necessary for them to bank victories now and not let weaker teams pressure them down the stretch of the season and gain more confidence. The lineups for the Reds and Brewers have been doing well, but their pitching overall still needs work. The Reds bullpen has been much better than last season, in which they were historically crappy, but they are still fragile towards the backend. If a healthy Cubs lineup can jump on the Reds starters early and drive up pitch counts, they should be able to exploit the lack of depth with the Reds relievers. The Brewers feature a very young starting staff with not much experience. Again, in this series, it will be important for the Cubs to get the bats going early and ambush the Brewers young starters before they get the chance to settle in. These series also have the potential to get Rizzo and Schwarber back on track as they have had impressive numbers in the past against these two teams. Schwarber has a batting average of .308 against Reds pitching while Rizzo has hit .299 with 13 homers and 33 RBIs in just 167 plate appearances against current Brewers pitchers.
The challenge for the Cubs in the first two series of the homestand will be improving their run prevention. The major strength of the Cubs last year was their ability to prevent runs through strong defense. However, this year the same defense has been a weakness. The defense should get a huge boost when Heyward and Russell return, but they still require improvements all across the diamond. If the defense continues to struggle, they will have a difficult time keeping the Reds and Brewers off the scoreboard. The Cubs currently lead the majors in unearned runs and are facing two offenses in the top ten in scoring. The Reds are second, and the Brewers sit at seventh in runs scored. If the Cubs continue to give away unearned runs it might be too much for them to overcome in these upcoming series.
The final four games of the homestand the Cubs will face the Giants, who have had a dismal start to the season. The Giants currently sit nine games out of first and have struggled in nearly every aspect this season. The low point of the year came when their ace, Madison Bumgarner was sidelined due to a nasty biking injury in April. With the loss of Bumgarner, the Giants have relied heavily on Johnny Cueto to carry much of the pitching burden. Cueto has been alright to this point, but the rest of that staff has struggled. The starters have received little help from the bullpen which has improved little from last year. The Giants present another opportunity for the Cubs lineup to heat up their bats. The Giants pitchers have allowed plenty of runs this season, and the Cubs hitters need to take advantage of their mistakes. The lineup for the Giants has started to heat up a bit as of late, mostly built around a power surge by first baseman Brandon Belt. However, the Giants lineup lacks length and can be held at bay by some strong outings by Cubs starters. The Cubs need to take this series against a struggling Giants team and build some momentum as they move forward to the first quarter of the season.
Playing at home should give the Cubs some comfort as they try to start a winning streak. The off day should allow for some adequate rest and recovery the Cubs need before getting into a very critical stretch of the season. Although it’s early, the Cubs do not want to waste this chance to win some games at home and improve from their shaky start. Hopefully, some home cooking in Chicago will lead beautiful baseball and a lot of ‘W’ flags.
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