Swanson's success among Cubs' biggest early takeaways

Chicago's rotation flexes its depth, while walks will need to be trimmed

April 2nd, 2023

CHICAGO -- One weekend of Cubs baseball is officially in the books. That means the time has come to start drawing sweeping conclusions and overreacting to a small sample of what is to come over the next six months.

"That's what we do," Cubs manager David Ross quipped.

The North Siders were dealt a 9-5 loss at the hands of the rival Brewers on Sunday, putting the period on the opening series at Wrigley Field. The Cubs picked up one win in the three-game set, but there were hints of the brand of baseball that will be on display in 2023.

"I liked what I saw," Cubs pitcher said. "Obviously, you wish you won the series and come out with two or three wins. But overall, I think there's a lot of good things to take away."

Here are four takeaways from the Cubs' first series of the year.

1. Swanson looks as advertised
In the first inning on Sunday, Cubs shortstop  delivered a run-scoring single. In the fourth, Swanson made a slick back-handed grab to snare a grounder and fired home to cut down Garrett Mitchell trying to score from third base.

It was like that all series for Swanson.

"Dansby was showing it off all weekend," Taillon said.

After signing a seven-year, $177 million contract with the Cubs, it would be only natural for Swanson to feel pressure to make a strong first impression. The shortstop went 7-for-12 in his first three games with Chicago and made a handful of highlight-reel defensive gems.

Chicago needs Swanson to be the anchor of a dynamic defense, and Cubs fans got their first look at that prospect in the series against the Brewers. Batting in the No. 2 hole, Swanson also showed he can hit to all fields and help be an engine for the offense.

2. Rotation sets the tone
In each of the first two games, Cubs starters Marcus Stroman and Justin Steele logged six scoreless innings. Chicago had a slim lead in both tilts and Ross was able to line up his bullpen accordingly. It paid off in an Opening Day win, but the relief corps faltered on Saturday.

In the series finale, Taillon -- known for his precision -- was battling his command from the jump. After not issuing any walks to the 70 batters he faced in Spring Training, the big right-hander walked the fourth batter he faced on Sunday afternoon.

"I was just kind of falling behind in counts,” Taillon said. “But overall I felt fine. I don't think I need to go change anything drastic."

Ross pulled the plug on Taillon's outing at four innings -- he allowed three runs on seven hits -- and that created a tough situation for Chicago's bullpen. It was a reminder that the Cubs will need their deeper rotation to chew up innings consistently this year to help Ross get the most out of a relief cast filled with question marks.

3. Cutting down the walks
If there is one thing that gets under Ross' skin as a manager, it's walks. The former catcher likes to have a pitching staff full of arms capable of hitting the strike zone consistently, inducing weak contact and taking advantage of the strong defensive unit.

"That's one of my staples," Ross said. "If we're going to get beat, let's get beat in the zone. Let's not beat ourselves."

Through the season's first three games, the Cubs' bullpen has logged an 18.9 percent walk rate, which represented the highest in the Majors as of the end of Sunday's game. In this particular defeat, there was plenty of weak contact, but Milwaukee converted three walks into runs, including two in a five-run outburst in the sixth inning.

"When we're in the strike zone,” Taillon said, “we're going to be pretty good.”

4. Lineup still finding identity
The best example of the type of offense the Cubs should feature this season arrived in the third inning on Opening Day. There were opposite-field singles, runners taking an extra base and an overall aggressiveness that led to a four-run rally.

There were flashes of power this weekend -- Patrick Wisdom belted two shots on Sunday -- but the Cubs should be more of a gap-to-gap lineup that leans on baserunning to help generate runs. Swanson had a great first series, but the lineup was cold (.213 average and .616 OPS) overall.

“Everybody's trying to get in rhythm,” Ross said. “Hitting, in general, is going to come and go. I know the new guys probably want to put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform.”