The Cubs’ front office plan to put superb defenders behind pitchers has worked perfectly so far this season. Marcus Stroman, who started on opening day for Chicago, has taken full advantage of the newly-improved defense.
Stroman has started the season with two consecutive shutout outings of 6+ innings. To find the last time a Cubs pitcher has done that, you need to rewind to Don Zimmer’s final managerial season, 1991, when Mike Bielecki accomplished the feat. 1991 is also the second-to-last season legendary pitcher Greg Maddux threw with the Cubs.
While Stroman’s 12 innings of work to begin the season is a very small sample size, his pitch arsenal is ideal for elite infield defense. Stroman has created 36 outs so far, 14 by strikeout and 22 outs on the ground. Historically, Stroman has been able to keep the ball on the ground, limiting popups and home runs due to his filthy sinker.
Additionally, if his strikeout rate continues or slightly dips, he’ll still have the highest K/9 rate in his career. Right now, it sits at 10.5 through his first two starts, and his highest rate came in 2021 (7.9), his final season pitching for the New York Mets.
Elite defenders in second baseman Nico Hoerner and shortstop Dansby Swanson have been vacuums behind Stroman, cleaning up anything that goes into the middle of the field. While the pair have only played eight games together, the duo’s double play routine continues to improve.
Two Cubs who began the season injured – Seiya Suzuki due to oblique tightness and Brandon Hughes because of a knee injury – are nearing returns to the big-league roster. Both players made their season debuts with the AAA Iowa Cubs Saturday.
Suzuki’s return will be huge for the Cubs, as right field has been a questionable and inconsistent position for the team. Suzuki provides solid defense in the corner outfield and an elite eye at the plate. His importance to the roster cannot be overstated, especially since he’s a natural right fielder. When Suzuki returns, more holes will be fixed for the roster, and many players will return to their natural position.
For Hughes, he’s an important southpaw pitcher for the team’s bullpen. In his rookie season, he appeared in 57 games, throwing 57.2 innings of work to a 3.12 ERA. Hughes was efficient at striking batters out last season (68 SOs, 10.9K/9), and he looks to be one of the more reliable arms this season.