By Nate Johnson
Nearing the quarter mark in this 2015 season, the Chicago Cubs continue to keep the hopes of fans high as they sit solidly in second place in the National League Central (and firmly in the mix for a wild card) after taking six out of seven games from the Mets and the Pirates during a homestand that also featured the return of the Wrigley Field bleachers.
Despite a 3-0 loss on May 17 to Pittsburgh, plenty of excitement remained around the team’s recent play. After seemingly waiting forever for his first major league home run, Kris Bryant went deep four times over a five-game stretch and holds the team lead in runs batted in with 24. Teammate Anthony Rizzo is somehow managing to be even stronger at the plate than Bryant, with a batting average just shy of .350, a Cubs-leading 8 home runs, and a staggering 1.073 OPS.
Add the steady progression (and some very solid defense) from Addison Russell and flashes of power from catcher Miguel Montero, and the Cubs continue to make strides on the offensive side of the game. First-year manager Joe Maddon’s influence has been very evident with increased focus on base-running aggression and plate discipline, resulting in Chicago sitting in the top third of the league in on-base percentage and only trailing Cincinnati in stolen bases.
On the flip side, however, spotty pitching has proven an issue for the team. Weak middle relief has already cost Phil Coke his place on the team and others could follow. Travis Wood has moved into the bullpen (joining Edwin Jackson, who had already lost his spot in the rotation) to make room for lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who will make his season debut against San Diego on the upcoming west coast road trip.
The front end of the rotation remains firm, as new ace Jon Lester has bounced back from a shaky start to tie Jake Arrieta for the team lead in wins with four, and Jason Hammel continues the steady ways he showed Cubs fans last season.
Besides the continued grind of the division schedule, an upcoming series against Kansas City and seven games in two weeks against the Washington Nationals will certainly test this team’s mettle, but it appears that the excitement could very well last, if not grow, as summer comes to the Friendly Confines.