Monday, May 6, 2024

Sockman Returns


This era of baseball is going to be lined with players who were never expected to be put into big situations but got there due to injuries and circumstance, and outdid the expectations placed upon them. We're not in a time where everybody's first choices can last the whole season anymore, you need guys who can be a backup and then grab the moment when nobody expects it. 

The Cubs have like 6 or 7 of those kinds of guys right now. And they're in first.

It means a lot that the Cubs have enough depth options to not be embarrassed once Bellinger, Suzuki and Steele hit the IL. Like, y'know who's the star of the Cubs outfield right now? Mike Tauchman. Yeah, the guy who did the same backup thing for the Yankees in 2019 and won raves. He's a professional fourth outfielder, a guy that you don't expect to use immediately but can do really well in a pinch. And so far, filling in for the big guys, Tauchman is hitting .267 with 10 RBIs and 3 homers in 90 at-bats. Only a few other Cubs hitters are doing that well, including Michael Busch, another 'in case of injury break glass' guy who's been very good at 1st base and has 6 homers and 18 RBIs. 

It's also nice to see the rookies getting stuff done as replacements for the ailing outfielders. Pete Crow Armstrong famously struggled in his first MLB go last year, and he's been a lot better this year, with 7 hits and 7 RBIs in 30 at-bats. Alexander Canario's a lot more lethal, he's hitting .273 right now despite less at-bats. These two are looking a ton more MLB-ready than they were in 2023, and it makes up for the fact that Matt Mervis still can't hit in the majors. 

The real intriguing detail with this Cubs team has been what's been bubbling up in this rotation. Because right now, the Cubs have four starters with an ERA lower than 2. Shota Imanaga is famously unhittable, he has 3 earned runs in 35 innings. Jameson Taillon's had a ton of great starts recently and has a 1.13 ERA. Javier Assad has a 1.97 ERA and is having his best season yet. Hayden Wesneski is up and starting and after a rough 2023 has a 0.54 ERA in 4 appearances. And in a couple days Justin Steele returns, and he still has a 1.93 ERA from his first start of the year. Nobody in this rotation has an ERA higher than 2. The Mariners rotation, the Phillies rotation, both of those have gotten a lot of publicity, but the Cubs have accumulated all this incredible starting energy without people looking.

Furthermore, the Cubs just lapped the Brewers thanks to a series against them and are now in 1st place in the NL Central. They've won 20 games, have some of the biggest stories in the league, and are proving the effectiveness of Craig Counsell at the helm. It couldn't be going better for this team, and that's even keeping in mind how many 'backup guys' they've had to employ that are doing well.

The Cubs finally have built a good enough team, after years of being out of options after the mildest setback. This is the kind of progress you look for in this sport. Let's hope they keep it up.

Coming Tonight: Speaking of the Mariners' rotation, one of those guys who doesn't give up runs most of the time. 

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