The Cubs went 4-15 against the Brewers in 2021, a season Milwaukee won the NL Central and the Cubs traded a third of their roster.
They’re already halfway to that win total against their NL Central rival in 2022. The Cubs took two of three from the Brewers in their season-opening series at Wrigley Field over the weekend.
Here’s a few first impressions after opening weekend.
Kyle Hendricks, Justin Steele, Marcus Stroman set the tone
Could the Cubs have asked for a better opening act from their starting rotation?
Kyle Hendricks, coming off the worst season of his career, talked this spring about wanting to set the tone for the rotation in 2022.
Not only did he do that with a vintage performance in the season opener, but Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman followed him with their own strong debuts over the weekend.
• Hendricks: 5 1/3 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 7 K
• Steele: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 5 K
• Stroman: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 3 K
Sure, the Brewers had a below average offense in 2021, and it’s only been three games. But this is an encouraging start for the rotation. Pitching was a big question for the Cubs entering the season, certainly with Wade Miley opening on the injured list.
Hendricks and Stroman were expected to lead the rotation this season. If Steele emerges as a consistent starter behind them, it will go a long way toward the Cubs’ chances to compete.
The rotation has started off on the right foot, but the Cubs bullpen is at least a work in progress.
The bullpen blew two saves vs. Milwaukee, surrendering 3-1 and 3-0 leads on Opening Day and Sunday. The Cubs won the opener but lost the latter game, both by scores of 5-4.
Through three games, the bullpen has allowed seven runs on eight hits and five walks in 11 2/3 innings.
Pitching staffs across baseball will be fluid early this season as pitchers settle into roles and teams figure out what works best.
The Cubs, whose bullpen includes five new additions, are in no rush to name a closer. They still need to identify guys who can consecutively pitch scoreless innings.
Seiya Suzuki's acclimation
Many expected Seiya Suzuki to need time to acclimate to big-league pitching. The Brewers series was an early test. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta, three of the National League’s top starting pitchers, took the mound.
Suzuki passed with flying colors, going 3-for-8 with a home run and six RBIs in the three-game series. He joined Larry Hoffman (1901), Starlin Castro (2010) and Jorge Soler (2014) as the only Cubs with six RBIs in the first three games of their careers.
Just as impressive has been Suzuki’s discipline thus far. He’s seen 57 pitches through three games and has only swung and missed once. He’s drawn four walks in 13 plate appearances.
“He can rake,” Stroman said after Sunday’s game. “I think he’s going to be someone who you know is going to give you a quality at-bat each and every time.
“[He’s] someone who I think is going to bring a little fear into opposing pitching staffs, and someone who is going to be a main dude in that top three, top four part of the lineup for years to come.”
Walk this way
Suzuki isn’t alone in showing good plate discipline. The Cubs have drawn 17 walks through three games, fourth-most in baseball entering Monday.
“It's about turning over to the next guy, right?” Ross said. “We're preaching just trust the guy behind you, zone into your zone, making these pitchers work and not swinging at borderline pitches.
“Sometimes you'll get rung up on borderline balls and strikes. But sometimes, those pitches are going to go your way too. These guys have done a nice job of staying honed into their strike zone, commanding their strike zone and not getting outside of that. I love that.”