These 4 Cubs have stepped up big early

April 18th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Jordan Bastian’s Cubs Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CHICAGO -- Talk about a whirlwind start to the season for the Cubs.

Not only did two of the first six series of 2024 include the reigning pennant winner from each league, but the North Siders played 12 of their first 18 games on the road. When the Cubs did have a six-game stint at Wrigley Field, it was frigid and windy. The ballclub is back home again, following a wild finish to a nine-game, 10-day swing through San Diego, Seattle and Phoenix.

So far, the Cubs weathered the early-season storms -- including injuries to two key starters (Justin Steele and Jameson Taillon), an important reliever (Julian Merryweather) and a focal point of their lineup (Seiya Suzuki) -- to the tune of an 11-7 record. That does not happen without some key contributions up and down the roster.

Let’s take a look at four players who have helped drive the Cubs’ solid start to the campaign.

1. 1B
Cubs manager Craig Counsell said over the weekend in Seattle that Busch had been “driving the bus” for the offense of late. That comment came while the rookie was in the midst of a five-game homer streak that tied a franchise record for Chicago.

Through 18 games, Busch has hit .317/.400/.667 with six home runs, three doubles and 13 RBIs for the Cubs, who acquired him via trade from the Dodgers over the winter. Busch has also drawn nine walks, while ranking in the 99th percentile in Barrel rate (20.5%) in the Majors, per Statcast.

“It's definitely a combination of everything,” Cubs hitting coach Dustin Kelly said. “When you swing at good pitches and you have the power and the contact ability that he has, he's going to hit the ball pretty hard.”

2. RHP
In the seventh inning on Sunday, Leiter took over on the mound in Seattle with no outs, runners on first and second and the Cubs clinging to a 3-2 lead. Two pitches later, Leiter had escaped unscathed. He generated a flyout and a double-play groundout, then howled on the hill in celebration.

“He’s the Leit Show, you know?” Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay beamed after the win.

Through nine appearances, Leiter has a 0.00 ERA, yielding just two unearned runs in his 10 innings of work. The righty has 11 strikeouts against four walks with only three hits allowed, holding batters to a .088 average. That includes a 1-for-22 (.045) showing against lefty hitters. Leiter also checks in at fifth in Win Probability Added (0.97) among MLB relievers.

3. LHP
Imanaga has been one of baseball’s best stories in the early going. After leaving Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan in favor of signing with the Cubs over the offseason, the 30-year-old lefty has yet to allow an earned run through his first three career starts in the Majors. Imanaga has 16 strikeouts against two walks, plus only one unearned run surrendered on nine hits in his 15 1/3 innings.

4. RHP
When Taillon was shelved during Spring Training due to a back injury, it opened the door for Assad to start this season in Chicago’s rotation. Through three turns, the 26-year-old righty has gone 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 18 strikeouts versus five walks in 16 2/3 innings. Assad has performed well as a reliever in bursts over the past two years, but he now has a 2.86 ERA through 21 career starts for Chicago.