The first inning has proved vexing for Chicago Cubs starting pitchers thus far in the 2017 season. Is this pattern bound to change?
Playing nine innings, MLB teams have ample opportunity to win ballgames. However, there is something to be said for getting off on the right foot in that first inning. A strong opening frame can springboard a club to victory – or put it in an early hole too deep to climb out of.
The first inning has been stumbling block for the Chicago Cubs in the young 2017 season. The reigning World Series champions own an ugly 9.82 ERA in the first inning through 22 games. Cubs hurlers have surrendered 34 hits in this frame, 20 of them for extra bases – 11 doubles, a triple and eight home runs. Opponents are batting a hearty .340/.402/.710 in the first.
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By comparison, last year’s team managed a much more agreeable 3.28 ERA in the first inning, holding opponents to a paltry .201/.282/.335 slash line.
Over their last five games dating back to April 23, the Cubs have allowed nine runs in the first inning. The only game in the past week in which they kept a clean opening frame was last Tuesday’s matchup against the Pirates, which ended up a razor’s edge 1-0 victory. Overall, Chicago went 2-3 in this span.
Jake Arrieta in particular has struggled in the first inning during his last two starts. On April 22 against the Reds, he let up four runs in the first en route to a six-inning, five-run performance. Fortunately for him, the Cubs’ bats bailed him out and secured a 12-8 win.
Last night in Boston, he wasn’t so lucky. Arrieta coughed up five runs to kick off his outing, and that was all the Red Sox would need in a 5-4 victory. The Cubs righty lasted just 4.1 frames, allowing 10 hits and three walks in the process. The pair of rough starts raised Arrieta’s season ERA from 2.89 to 4.66.
While Arrieta has perhaps been the poster child for the Cubs’ first-inning difficulties, the team’s rotation as a whole has gotten off to a somewhat sluggish start. Cubs starters currently hold a 4.26 ERA as a unit, good for just 22nd in baseball. Last year they led the league with a sparkling 2.96 mark. Jon Lester and Brett Anderson are the only rotation members with ERAs under 4.00 right now.
Naturally, the underwhelming pitching has contributed to Chicago’s relatively slow start, at least in light of their very high expectations heading into the season. The Cubs sport a modest 12-10 record, which is still good enough for first place in the NL Central. Their division rivals are nipping at their heels, though – the last-place Reds are only 2.5 games behind.
Manager Joe Maddon isn’t overly concerned about his club’s trouble in the first inning and believes things will turn around quickly. Per ESPN.com:
“We play that game almost every night,” manager Joe Maddon said of starting from behind. “I am certain that is going to go away. Like I said, [the Cubs starters’] stuff is good. I don’t have any strong explanation as to why. I really believe it’s going to trend in the right direction.”
It’s hard not to agree with him. The Cubs rotation is too talented to let this continue for the entire season. And although they certainly haven’t matched last year’s torrid pace – when they didn’t lose their 10th game until May 17 – the Cubs remain the clear team to beat in the NL Central.