Chicago Cubs Walk Off: Opening Week in Review

Cubs ace Justin Steele will be out for a month with a hamstring injury after pitching 4.2 innings in the opener.
Cubs ace Justin Steele will be out for a month with a hamstring injury after pitching 4.2 innings in the opener. / Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

The Scheduling Department in the MLB wasn't kind to the Chicago Cubs as they started the season against the World Series Champions Texas Rangers. It doesn't get too much easier moving forward as April pits the Cubs against the Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Marlins, Astros, and Red Sox.

On The Mound

The Cubs pitching had an awful start to the year. SP Justin Steele looked great with 4.2 innings and only one run and three hits. Unfortunately, he left after pulling his hamstring covering a bunt. An easy out will turn into a month on the IL for Steele. The Cubs persevered in their season opener with RP Mark Leiter, Jr. (three strikeouts) and RP Hector Neris putting up scoreless innings.

After pulling ahead in the top of the ninth, RP Adbert Alzolay blew his first save opportunity of the year by giving up a pinch-hit home run. He redeemed himself in Game 3 of the series with a clean save.

In Game 2 of the series, Cubs pitching was annihilated. SP Kyle Hendricks gave up five runs in 5.2 innings with two home runs. RP Jose Cuas, RP Luke Little, and RP Yency Almonte showed up with scoreless innings. Ben Brown wasn't as fortunate in his MLB debut giving up six earned in 1.2 innings.

SP Jordan Wicks was the victim of some very uncharacteristically sloppy defense with errors by 3B Christopher Morel and, astonishingly, SS Dansby Swanson. He only gave up two earned in 4 innings, but five overall. Luckily, Leiter, RP Brandon Merryweather, Hector Neris, and Alzolay all had scoreless innings (Merryweather went 2 innings). On the day, the Cubs struck out 13.

It was really just Hendricks and Brown running up the team ERA this weekend. In the last few years, Hendricks has started slow and then had streaks of unhittable pitching down the stretch. There is reason to wonder how much longer his style of pitching will be effective in the MLB.

In The Batter's Box

Manager Craig Counsell is starting the year with batting 2B Nico Hoerner at leadoff against lefties and LF Ian Happ against righties. When they aren't batting in the leadoff spot, they are taking turns in the seven-hole. Counsell didn't get what he wanted out of Hoerner who went 0-4. Happ also went 0-4 on Opening Day but went 4-5 in the series finale, scored one run, had two RBI's, and added a walk.

Counsell has also been experimenting with the Designated Hitter position. In order to get OF Mike Tauchman into games, he has bat Happ at DH. When Happ hits in the DH spot, that puts 3B/DH Christopher Morel at third. When Morel bats in the DH position, that puts Happ back in LF and 3B Nick Madrigal at 3B. Madrigal bat .250 for the series.

It is early days for evaluating hitting, but Morel and Swanson have homers to start off the year (Swanson also has a double). We'll also keep an eye out for the hitting competition at the catcher position as both C Yan Gomes and C Miguel Amaya received playing times=. Amaya had two hits in the finale while Gomes is looking for his first hit.

Looking Forward

Hopefully the joke will be on the Rockies on April Fool's day as we get to see the MLB debut of Shota Imanaga.

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