Chicago Cubs Walk Off: Morel Up, Bullpen Down

Christopher Morel is hitting like a cleanup hitter on a playoff contending team.
Christopher Morel is hitting like a cleanup hitter on a playoff contending team. / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

On the heels of the heartbreaking series loss to the Red Sox, last week the Cubs split a four-game series with the Mets and took two of three from Milwaukee. So far this week, they are split with San Diego. With the Mets and Milwaukee filling up last week's schedule, the Cubs went 4-3 and now sit basically tied with Milwaukee for first place in the NL central.

The story of last week, and possibly the month, and what looks like it is continuing into May, is stellar starting pitching, situational hitting among a sluggish offense, and a struggling bullpen.

On the Mound

The Cubs starting rotation is on a phenomenal streak and it has only improved since sidelining SP Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs have two starters in the top 5 for ERA in the league: SP Shota Imanaga is 1 with 1.08 and SP Javier Assad is 4 with 1.66.

Talking to MLB's Cubs beat reporter Jordan Bastian, manager Craig Counsell couldn't say enough about Imanaga, “He's been a big deal here. He's been so, so important to us and a big reason why we're off to this start.”

It doesn't end there. SP Hayden Wesneski and SP James Taillon don't have enough innings to qualify for MLB stat leaders, but they sit at a .54 ERA and 1.13 ERA respectively. SP Justin Steele was activated off of IL this week and pitched 4.2 scoreless innings. This rotation is nasty.

According to, as a team, Cubs pitching ranks:

  • 14th in ERA (up 5 spots)
  • 14th in strikeouts (up 2)
  • 13th in WHIP (up 7)
  • 12th in batting average against (up 4)

With this type of upward swing in pitching stats, why only a 4-3 record for last week. Let's look to the bullpen.

RP Mark Leiter, Jr. pitched 3 scoreless innings, RP Colton Brewer pitched 3.1 scoreless, RP Yency Almonte pitched 3.2 scoreless, RP Richard Lovelady pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, and RP Hector Neris gave up 1 earned in 4 innings, RP Keegan Thompson had a uniquely bad outing, and RP Adbert Alzolay continues to be so far off track he may not even be in the race.

In the Cubs 2-4 loss to the New York Mets, Alzolay gave up a three-run home run for the Mets to take a 3-1 lead.

In the Cubs 11-inning 6-7 loss to the Mets, Thompson gave up 1 earned but a total of three runs (it was his own error that caused the unearned runs) in an inning and RP Victor Palencia gave up 2 runs, 1 earned (man starting on second is an unearned run).

In the Cubs 1-3 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Alzolay did not give up a home run. However, he pitched 1 out, gave up 4 hits and 3 earned runs. At this point it seems like Alzolay is almost unsalvageable for the season. But manager Craig Counsell is not giving up. He pitched Alzolay again against San Diego for a scoreless inning.

It feels like the Cubs will need to find a closer to finish the year strong. Neris is valiantly filling the role and had three saves last week. It seems that every outing has some drama. Neris walked two to start one outing, gave up a run in another outing, and gave up two hits in another. His experience shows through as he battles through all of this traffic (and thank you to the Happ-Madrigal-Amaya combination that made the play at the plate for the game winner in New York).

Though Leiter could be an internal option to test out, he is so effective in his current role it is hard to change anything. RP Julian Merryweather still has a decent amount of time on the IL.

Non-contending teams that could possibly sell their closers include the Nationals Kyle Finnegan, the Cardinals Ryan Helsley, the Tigers Jason Foley, or the Athletics Mason Miller.

In the Batter's Box

Let's not hang the Cubs bullpen out to dry. In the Cubs three losses last week, they scored 2 runs, 6 runs, and 1 run. In two of their wins they scored three runs and one run in a 1-0 shutout, respectively. It isn't like the bats are bailing the Cubs out in some of these close games.

According to, the Cubs offense ranking includes:

  • 19th in batting average (down 6 from last week).
  • 8th in home runs (up 6 from last week, thank you 3B Christopher Morel).
  • 10th in RBI's (down three)
  • 9th in runs (down two)
  • 11th in OBP (down two)
  • 12th in slugging (same)
  • 13th in OPS (down three)

Morel could not have found his power stroke at a better time. Morel had 4 home runs and 6 RBI's last week. If you have watched the tape, you'll also notice that he is much more comfortable at third base. Not just more reliable on the routine but saving hits and runs with stretch plays.

CF Pete Crow Armstrong has also been a nice addition on the offensive side. Though his average has dropped since his hot start (.220), he is still producing RBI's and had three RBI's last week.

2B Nico Hoerner is consistent and he is destined for another .280+ batting average this year and RF Mike Tauchman's average has risen to .280 with a .865 OPS. He is hot right now. Last week he had five hits, two doubles, and scored four runs. 1B Michael Busch also has an OPS over .800.

We continue to wait on SS Dansby Swanson (who has also had some ill-timed defensive snafus) and LF Ian Happ to catch fire. CF Cody Bellinger has returned from IL this week (already hit a home run in his first game) and we eagerly await the return of RF Seiya Suzuki. It will be interesting to see what the Cubs do with the outfield when Suzuki returns as Tauchman and Armstrong are both doing well. Maybe Suzuki sits at DH.

Scouting Report

This week, the Cubs play the series finale against San Diego tonight, May 8, and then go to Pittsburgh to finish up the week. Thursday, they will get their first day off in 16 days.

The second half of the month ramps up. Though they get Pittsburgh again and St. Louis, they have four games at Milwaukee and six games (home and away) against Atlanta. Good to get Atlanta out of the way early, but tough timing as they are really gaining ground on Milwaukee.

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