MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs are beginning to fine-tune with two weeks before heading back to Chicago and there’s been no shortage of things that have stood out this spring. While some will fade as the spring winds down, others will affect the team when the regular season begins.
Here are three takeaways from Cubs camp with two weeks until Opening Day.
The lineup is stacked, but has to produce
The Cubs need their offensive stars to be stars and after many of the team’s offensive standouts struggled last season, this season becomes magnified with Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo set to become free agents at season’s end.
While their impending free agency adds a level of pressure, the lineup still has an opportunity to be one of the best in baseball. The Cubs lineup is deep and it hasn’t been uncommon to see Javy Baez, Joc Pederson or even Willson Contreras hitting as low as sixth in the batting order this spring. Each of whom are capable of anchoring a big-league lineup.
“We got people here, trust me,” Baez said. “We got the talent, we got the pitching, we got the hitting, we got everything.”
Having a lineup depth like that is a luxury most clubs don’t have, and while pitching has helped carry the Cubs over the last few seasons, the Cubs not only expect their lineup to return to form, they need it to.
While the 60-game season can be attributed to some of the Cubs’ offensive struggles, their performance against velocity or late-season struggles have plagued them prior to the shortened season. If the Cubs hope to contend in the National League Central, their offensive core will have to step up in a big way.
“I think this is a really talented offensive group,” president Jed Hoyer said. “We’ve struggled in certain aspects of the game that we have to improve on. … I think when you look at the names in the lineup, I think it’s a really good lineup. I think we have to do a better job as a collective of putting that together and scoring runs.”
Starting rotation has a chance to succeed
There was no bigger question coming into spring training than the Cubs’ rotation and who was going to pitch behind ace Kyle Hendricks. The additions of Zach Davies, Jake Arrieta and Trevor Williams answered the “who” portion of that question.
But with Arrieta and Williams coming off of their own struggles with the Phillies and Pirates, and Alec Mills and Adbert Alzolay having limited bodies of work, there were still concerns about the group’s effectiveness.
Spring results can always be challenging to gauge, but the Cubs’ rotation has pitched well during camp and while the regular season will tell the story, the initial results have been positive. Davies has yet to allow a run this spring, Williams has sub-2.00 ERA and Arrieta has gotten better in each of his outings.
There’s little room for error with some depth concerns behind the Cubs’ starters and health is still a concern coming off the shortened season. But if the Cubs vaunted pitching infrastructure gets consistency out of this group, they’re showing they can have success.
“I don’t want to underestimate the pitching corps,” manager David Ross said. “I think we’ve got some sneaky good pitchers that may not be on the radar. But there’s definitely a willingness to be great from that group.”
Shelby Miller making a push
Shelby Miller has probably had the best camp of any pitcher in Cubs camp and the 30-year-old right-hander is not only turning heads, but is forcing his way into the team’s plans for 2021. Miller, who’s in camp as a non-roster invitee, has pitched well in various roles this spring.
Despite the competition for the team’s fifth starter with Mills and Alzolay, Miller may have done enough to carve out a role as the Cubs’ swingman out of the pen.
Miller has a 1.13 ERA in five games this spring with three walks and 10 strikeouts. He’s also allowed just one earned run in eight innings pitched. While not being on the 40-man roster could make the roster math tricky, Miller has done enough to earn serious consideration for the Opening Day roster.
“It’s hard to predict that opportunity, but who knows?,” Miller said. “I’m just trying to control what I can control at this point this spring and that’s just taking care of what I can do. As long as we’re going out there and competing and getting guys out, who knows what the possibility is?”