By Cat Garcia
Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe that baseball season has only been underway for about a month now. The Cubs are riding a 18-6 stretch to start the season, heading into tonight’s game at Pittsburgh, and have continually broken down the barriers of expectation throughout April.
Center fielder Dexter Fowler still leads the league in OBP and batting average, has accumulated a 2.0 WARP and a 17 percent walk rate – all things we expected to see regress back to normal sooner than this. Cubs fans simply saw it as a hot streak, and streaks have to end eventually. Well, though it is still just a streak as the numbers Fowler is putting up are not sustainable for extended periods of time – it’s become a lengthy one.
North siders have braced themselves to wake up from the dream that was Jake Arrieta’s 2015 second half, Arrieta couldn’t possibly keep up a stretch of dominance like that, right? Wrong. Arrieta would still be good, that seemed to be a given, but the odds of the magic lasting any longer than it did seemed unrealistic. Regression to the mean seemed inevitable.
But Arrieta has pitched in five games this season and won them all. He’s strung together his second career no-hitter just three weeks into the season, and though his 52.2 inning scoreless streak at Wrigley Field ended just last week against Milwaukee, Arrieta is still the NL ERA leader with an ERA of just 1.00. Arrieta has shown a somewhat human side but it’s still superlative to the human side almost any other pitcher in baseball has shown.
The Cubs are currently the best team in baseball and are holding onto a winning percentage well over .500 and a run differential nearly forty runs higher than the next best team. The team that once just looked good on paper has translated to reality rather flawlessly.
The remarkable thing about the successful run the Cubs are on is that it’s come despite setbacks and slow starts. Kyle Schwarber’s season was ended prematurely and abruptly in Arizona during the first week of the season; Miguel Montero is currently on the 15-day DL; and Jason Heyward and Addison Russell have both gotten off to slow starts. None of that has stopped the Cubs though.
But as the brisk spring air and rain that postponed two contests at Wrigley Field last week will serve to remind us, it’s still a young season, and anything can happen.
The Cubs had a less challenging schedule so far, only facing two teams over .500 during April. They’ll now begin a May schedule that will match them up with a few stronger opponents. The Cubs begin the month with this short three-game road trip to Pittsburgh, who stood at 15-11 and 4 games back of the first-place Cubs in the NL Central following Monday’s 7-2 loss to Chicago.
The Cubs will return to Wrigley on Thursday to take on the second best team in the National League, the Washington Nationals, for a four-game set. The Cubs will then continue the homestand at Wrigley Field and take on the San Diego Padres before facing the Pirates once again. Later in the month, the team will embark upon a road trip that will include stops in Milwaukee, San Francisco and St. Louis before ending the month at home against the Philadelphia Phillies and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
As the weather warms up and baseball begins to find it’s groove, May should truly be the month that tests the Cubs and proves whether or not the success that they’ve demonstrated early this season can uphold against strong competition. That is one of the only things that this dominant Cubs team has yet to prove to us, yet arguably the most important.