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We Are Good (Enough): It's Okay To Fall In Love With The 2021 Cubs

I have a real taste for theatrics on social particularly after an electric Sunday night victory. But truth be told I really think that was the biggest May win for the Cubs in so long. I want to spend a second flushing out that narrative before diving into some bigger themes that we've picked up in May. Now the season storylines really begin to emerge and what better time to reflect than a well-earned off day following a series win at your division rival. 

Would you believe me if I told you the Cubs have lost 7 games this month by a combined 7 runs? Because that's the god's honest truth and last night smelled like it was about to be #8. Davies pitches well enough to give the lineup a chance but for the 1,000th time in his career, Adam Wainwright was fucking nails against the Cubs. Historically speaking we lose this game dramatically and yet instead you find enough magic to keep the Cardinals off the board. The young bullpen continues to flourish while Javy's timing continues to rebound with an OPS increase over .100 points in the last calendar month.  

Yes it's only a 1-run win in May. Yes it could have easily gone another way. Yes the Cubs got outhit and generally outplayed. But if you buy into the 2021 narrative that there's one last push from this group, then you can clearly see why this series win is special. It's their 5th straight series win of 3+ games and it officially moves them into contention for the Central going into June when the ball starts flying out of Wrigley. You got Arrieta-Williams-Hendricks going this week at last place Pittsburgh. Don't call me crazy for saying the Cubs can finish May as one of baseball's hottest teams. 

The other team that can (very likely) claim my monthly award is the Los Angeles Dodgers. They're 12-3 going back to May 5th when they got swept by the Cubs. Applying the transitive property, it's obvious that the Cubs are responsible for the Dodgers' surge. That's how good the Cubs are this month. 

Here's some other major takeaways as we get into the Pirates series: 

- Since April 19th the Cubs have one of the best offenses in MLB. You're seeing a number of a guys flip a switch the last couple weeks while known-stars thrive in contract years. Bench players like Duffy and Marisnick have stepped up while Nico Hoerner looks like the full-time second baseman for 8-10 yeas. Batting average, on-base, slugging and all the weighted-composites have exploded since settling in at rock fucking bottom a little over a month ago. This isn't news by any stretch of the imagination but you definitely should take comfort knowing that the worst is over. Like if that's our standard of slumping this year then we can't really ever slump again. I think that's the associative property. 

- And Maybe The Bullpen Is Awesome? Just a couple weeks ago, we had Ryan Dempster on Red Line Radio talking about the Cubs and specifically how they haven't developed pitching in the farm system and it's killed their depth at the big league level. It's a massive disadvantage especially when you see how well the Brewers and of course the Cardinals bring their guys along. Such an uphill climb when you're constantly shuffling the deck with 7th-inning journeymen. 

Now we've got Dillon Maples and Keegan Thompson and Justin Steele (A LEFTY) and brand new Tommy Nance all stepping up in big spots and doing it at the league minimum. I can't remember the last time we had 4 league minimum arms in high leverage spots which is a testament to their talent, the front office's willingness to feature them and of course David Ross and his staff's confidence. Home grown relievers just hit different because they're mostly damaged goods. Like try and tell me you don't love Tommy Nance more because he played indy ball in Crestwood after college. 

Sentiment aside, they've been objectively good combining for 45.1 innings, 25 hits, 61 strikeouts and 6 earned runs (0.79 ERA) over 34 appearances. Extrapolate that shit out and you're looking at some monster full season debuts and again that's at league minimum. Really easy to trade the bigger names if you cross that bridge when you have hungry homegrown relievers ready to step up.

- Another plus-plus development story is Nico Hoerner. I was bitching up a storm after spring training because he looked objectively awesome. And instead we got Eric Sogard because service time manipulation is a real thing regardless of your feelings. Nico Hoerner is thus sent to AAA where he is reminded constantly that this is a business. 

Lucky for us Nico didn't throw a temper tantrum and regress. He actually got better and (dare I say) significantly more jacked. The man playing 2nd base for the Cubs now is a severely altered and improved version of the player drafted just a few years ago. Now he's flashing plus defense with a 131 OPS+ while projecting over 8.0 WAR for a 162-game season. That's the kind of development that keeps the existing superstars on the Cubs and the club in good financial shape. 

- One of those superstars is Kris Bryant. Many wrote him off for short-sided reasons and now he looks like the NL's most versatile player. He's putting up career best numbers in basically everything while playing all 3 outfield spots and both corner infield positions. At a time when versatility has never been more valued and desired, KB is showing everyone why he's the proud owner of a unanimous MPV. 

The hard data agrees. Across MLB: KB is 6th in WAR, 8th in wRC+, 7th in SLG%, 5th in OPS and 6th in weighted on base. And not to beat a dead horse but remember this is on a Cubs team that was dead last in everything just a month ago. The lone consistent along the way has been KB and it's largely because he's changed his approach to fastballs upstairs. Ken Rosenthal has a nice couple paragraphs on it here. Big takeaway is he literally just started working and mixing in high fastballs with his training. He deliberately and intentionally started targeting his approach to adjust for that and he's being rewarded with absurd success. Pitchers have to adapt now, not the other way around. 

- Hopefully this means that the KB prop bet hits one of these days. Lord have some mercy. We'll be back tomorrow for the Pirates game and I sincerely feel luck is about to change. +600-800 for a KB home run and the Cubs to win is so sharp because the Cubs win just about every time he homers. I haven't verified that but you're welcome to join me on this journey. Bright side is we've already got a lot of losers out of the way so we're due for a couple big hits. 

- Looking at the schedule only increases my confidence. 6 straight games against two bad baseball teams then a massive 3-gamer against the Padres at Wrigley to close out May. At 24-22, it's really easy to fall in love with a 30-25 record going into June. Beggars can't be choosers but I have a feeling they're still getting better. 

last note

- Credit to David Ross. Nothing but love for that man as he continues to impose his style on the clubhouse. It's obviously working based on the way they've rebounded. It's obvious KB is playing his best baseball ever while Adbert Alzolay looks like a bonafide top end starter. I know we're reluctant to give managers any respect, but David Ross has really put his mark on the 2021 Cubs. We'll see how long ownership and the front office let the season go before selling off more names. But for right now it's pretty fucking nice. Certainly more than we could've hope just a few weeks ago and definitely enough to justify long summer weekends in Wrigley. 

In other news We Are Good (Enough) 

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