The Cubs opened the 2019 season with a nine-game road swing, and they emerged from that trip with a disappointing 2-7 mark. Included in that stretch was losing two of three to the presumably lowly Rangers, getting swept by the Braves, and ceding two of three to the Brewers. The pitching staff was largely to blame for that awful start.
Anytime a team begins the season with some kind of stretch that defies the consensus for better or worse, we tend to read more into it. If the Cubs had, say, endured a 2-7 stretch in late July we wouldn't think much of it. Even a very good team -- like, say, the Cubs, who have made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons -- goes through such funks. That's baseball, and that's the nature of the 162-game sprawl that is the MLB regular season. Since this particular stretch happened at the outset and was thus all the information we had about the 2019 Cubs,. They probably shouldn't have.
On Friday at Wrigley, the Cubs bested the visiting Angels by a score of 5-1 (box score). Doing most of the damage was catcher Willson Contreras, who picked three hits, two of which were homers. Both of those homers made their way to Waveland Avenue beyond the left field bleachers. Here's a representative sampling:
Also encouraging for the Cubs is that veteran lefty Cole Hamels pitched well for a second straight start. Here's his day's work:
Hamels was facing a Mike Trout-less Angels lineup, yes, but the results are impressive in any context. In his first start of the season, Hamels was knocked around by his former mates in Texas, but over his last two starts he's allowed two runs in 14 innings with 11 strikeouts against no walks. Getting some vintage Hamels will of course be key for the Cubs now that Jon Lester is on the IL. Getting this from Hamels a day after Jose Quintana was even more dominant against the Pirates is especially encouraging for the Cubs.
More broadly, the Cubs are now 3-1 on their current homestand, and that once-maligned pitching staff has allowed a total over six runs over those four games. The Cubs now boast a positive run differential (plus-4) despite their 5-8 record, and the SportsLine Projection Model (@SportsLine on Twitter) still tabs them for 88 wins and puts them in a three-way scrum for the NL Central title. As they've reminded us since their home opener, the Cubs, despite that inauspicious start, are the still the Cubs.