Opening Night a reality check for Cubs


Despite the hype in the offseason surrounding the Chicago Cubs, they showed on Opening Night that they’re not quite ready for prime time just yet.

Hype swirled around the Chicago Cubs in the offseason and spring training, including giddy proclamations that the Back to the Future prediction that had the Cubbies winning the 2015 World Series could possibly be realized.

As prized free-agent pitcher Jon Lester took the mound on Opening Night, a buzz filled Wrigley Field. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always ‘hope’ surrounding a new season, but this was different. It was a buzz that ushered in a whole new era of exciting, competitive baseball.

Unfortunately, for the Cubs, this game conjured up ghosts of past seasons.

We can look at the first inning alone. After Jason Heyward smoked a one-out double to right, Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler bobbled a Matt Holiday line drive, allowing Heyward to score easily. In the bottom half of the inning, with Anthony Rizzo struck out on a questionable call from umpire Mike Winters with a man on third and only one out. Adam Wainwright proceeded to retire Starlin Castro and the Cubs squandered a golden opportunity.

Defense and timely hitting – two areas that have been recurring nightmares for the Cubbies for … well, forever.

For the game, the Cubs committed two errors that showed up in the box score, but many other miscues cost the Cubs throughout the game (the missed force-out from Soler to Castro on a bloop hit, for one).

Also, the offense went 0-13 with runners in scoring position. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Cubs are just the second team in 40 years to go 0-13 with RISP in a season opening game. Leave it to the Cubbies to make the wrong kind of history.

For those saying that Kris Bryant would have come through – that’s not a guarantee. After all, Rizzo and Castro, two established hitters, went 1-7 combined. Bryant would have been a rookie making his debut in colder conditions than what he played in in Arizona, against possibly the second best pitcher in the National League. It’s unlikely he’d have been the difference in his first game.

Obviously, though, this was just one game. Consider the context as well – a young team with the highest expectations they’ve had in years, in a nationally televised game, at home, on Opening Night, against their most bitter rivals? It’s a tough draw. There were sure to be some nerves, and it showed on the field.

Lester, who failed to make it out of the fifth inning, was shaky all night. He was victimized by some bloop hits and the aforementioned poor defense, but he left a few mistakes out over the plate which the Cardinals, as great teams do, capitalized on. To be fair, this was essentially another spring training start for him as he missed the bulk of it with a ‘dead arm’. He’ll get back on track.

There were some positives, no doubt. The Cubs had the leadoff man on in the first three innings against Wainwright. Even though they only drew two walks, they frequently went deep in the count and showed decent patience – something that will help them dearly as the season progresses. The bullpen was phenomenal – combining for 4.2 innings of shutout baseball.

But the truth is that the Cubs are a young team who will go through growing pains as they continue to play and learn the nuances of the major league game. Jorge Soler’s day was a prime example of that. And when Kris Bryant and Addison Russell come up to the majors, they’ll struggle somewhat as they adjust, too. It’s part of the game.

In the offseason, as Cubs hype grew exponentially, Anthony Rizzo made a bold statement about his team:

“It’s going to happen this year … We’re going to play and we’re going to win the NL Central, you can quote me on that. We should be the team, with all due respect to every other team, we’re going to do some things this year”.

Rizzo’s confidence is understandable – as this is definitely going to be a very exciting team as they overcome their struggles. But they’re not quite there yet. Sunday night served as a reality check against the true class of the NL Central.

Next: Why The Backlash Over Kris Bryant Decision?

Apr 5, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; St. Louis Cardinals left fielder Peter Bourjos (left ) and center fielder Jon Jay (center) and right fielder Jason Heyward (right) celebrate their victory following the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. St. Louis won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports