Chicago Cubs Walk Off: The Week in Review

Kyle Hendricks returns as the senior leader of a Cubs rotation with much to prove this year.
Kyle Hendricks returns as the senior leader of a Cubs rotation with much to prove this year. / Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Baseball Spring Training is a fickle beast and the Chicago Cubs have not been immune to the roller coaster ride. While battles for lineup spots ensue, the real competition and intrigue is around the pitching performance, especially the starting rotation.

Pitching wise, the Cubs didn't make as many offseason moves as they advertised, and their biggest signing may have been new manager Craig Counsell.

However, the Cubs did lock in Shota Imanaga (starting) and Hector Neris (relief), foregoing the bigger names in free agency like Josh Hader, Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell (though Snell and Montgomery are still available).

Pitching Performance So Far

Javier Assad has been a spark plug for the Cubs since debuting in 2022. He had some consistency issues in 2023, but generally pitched really well. Assad ended the year with a 3.05 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. More than respectable. Spring training hasn't been kind, though. Against the Padres on Feb 25, he gave up 2 runs in 1.1 innings and then gave up four runs in 2 innings to the White Sox. He doesn't not have a strikeout yet.

Conversely, Jose Cuas has pitched 2 innings in the Cactus league, has four strikeouts, and no earned runs. He only pitched in four games in 2024 that equated to four innings and an equally impressive ERA of 0.

Adbert Alzolay kind of tripped into the closing role last year with some really great results. Alzolay finished 2023 with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. In spring training, he has given up 0 runs on two innings with a .50 WHIP.

Kyle Hendricks, the senior leader of the rotation, has had a rocky start to Spring Training, giving up 1 run in 1 innings to Cincinnati and 3 runs in 3 innings to Cleveland.

Shota Shows Some Power

The Cubs signed Imanaga to the MLB after an amazing run at the World Baseball Classic last year. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Imanaga had one goal, ‘‘My goal today was to not give up a home run,’’ he said through an interpreter. ‘‘And even though it happened, it was a good learning experience to try to figure out how that could end up being a single in front of left field.’’

Imanaga has given up three runs in 2.1 innings, but has five strikeouts. That is the kind of power pitching that the Cubs are really hoping for to anchor the lineup. With his first pitch, he had a pitching clock violation. Welcome to the MLB.

Mark Leiter, Jr, who was part of the relief anchor in 2023, has pitched in two innings. In the first, he gave up 2 runs and in the second he gave up 0 runs. Neris has pitched two and given up zero runs.

As for others in the starting rotation, Drew Smyly gave up five runs in his last two inning outing. Justing Steele has given up 2 runs in his three inning outing. Jordan Wicks, who was outstanding in the last few weeks of the season last year, has pitched in 8 innings so far to a 2.25 ERA, and gave up 1 one run in his last outing of 3.1 innings (pitching against Manny Machado, Xander Bogaerts, and Fernando Tatis).

Most disappointingly, Hayden Wesneski has struggled this spring training. After a phenomenal debut in 2022, Wesneski could stay in the MLB, making a couple of different trips back down to the minors. He has a massive, Dylan Cease like slider but has a 21 ERA in his 3 innings pitched in Spring Training.

What Can We Predict into the Regular Season

The point of all the information is that the information doesn't tell us much because it is Spring Training. The pitchers are working on new pitches, new mechanics, and stretching themselves out for deep runs. The batters are working on new swings, new mechanics, and trying not to get hurt.

The Cubs starting rotation battled consistency issues last year. Marcus Stroman was an All-Star, but struggled mightily in the second half. Kyle Hendricks and Jameson Taillon had a tough start and a great second half. The relief core that carried the Cubs through August of Juliam Merryweather, Leiter, and Alzolay, ran out of steam in September.

It would be great to see some of the young talent like Keegan Thompson, Daniel Palencia, and Wesneski kick it into fourth and fifth gear this year to bolster relief and starting pitcher. However, Spring Training probably won't give us a clue to that answer.

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