By Julie DiCaro–
(CBS) A few weeks into the season, the Cubs are 8-6 and sit in second place in the NL Central, a game-and-a-half behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Given the annual trauma they’ve have suffered for many years, Cubs fans are wondering if Joe Maddon’s squad really is better than the teams of the past or if the team is just off to a hot start.READ MORE: Mobile City Hall Bringing City Services To Little Village Tuesday
Happily for the Wrigley faithful, the 2015 Cubs — thus far — really are playing better baseball than those who came before them. So with the acknowledgement that the sample size this year is still in its infancy, here are five ways in which the 2015 Cubs are doing better than they did in 2014.
Getting on base: It’s not your imagination. Kris Bryant and his dreamy blue eyes really are on base almost every time you look up. In fact, the whole team is reaching base at a much higher rate than it did last season. Though he only has 22 at-bats thus far, Bryant leads the team with a .552 on-base percentage, followed by Anthony Rizzo at .484 and Starlin Castro at .367. Overall, the Cubs have registered an OBP of .331 to date, 31 points higher than 2014’s final number and ninth-best in baseball.
Hitting on the road: In 2014, the Cubs hit a dismal .236 away from Wrigley Field, just barely better than the .242 average they put up at home. Yet so far in 2015, the Cubs have managed a sparkling .282 team batting average on the road. What’s more, the team’s on-base plus slugging (OPS) away from home in 2014 was an anemic .680; it’s compared to .795 this season. Not only is the team hitting the ball on the road, they’re hitting it harder than last year. Which bring us to . . .
Hitting for extra bases: The maturation and addition of baby Cubs who can hit the cover off the ball is evident this season. At 25, Rizzo and Castro are the crusty veterans of the group. Both Bryant and Jorge Soler are just 23. Addison Russell brings up the rear at 21 (he was born in 1994!).READ MORE: Police Release Video Of Suspects Wanted In Death Of 18-Year-Old Azul De La Garza
But what the kids lack in years on the planet Earth, they make up for in power at the plate. In April 2014, the Cubs slugged just .360. So far this season, the team is slugging .385, and Russell hasn’t even figured out major league hitting yet. Once again, Bryant leads the regulars with a .591 slugging percentage, followed by Soler at .492 and Castro at .466. Not bad for a young team with a new manager still trying to find their footing.
Saving games: In 2014, the Cubs tied for the seventh-most blown saves in the majors with 21. This season, the Cubs have already surpassed their total saves for April of 2014 (two), and the month isn’t even over yet. Obviously, a better offense is giving Chicago more chances, but don’t discount the work of relievers like Pedro Strop, Edwin Jackson (no, I’m not kidding) and Gonzalez German (who made his Cubs debut Wednesday night), all of whom still have ERAs of 0.00 and WHIPs under 1.00. Closer Hector Rondon is 3-of-4 in save chances with a 2.25 ERA, and the bullpen has a 3.30 ERA.
Striking opposing batters out: The Cubs are striking out opposing batters more often than in April 2014, when the team averaged 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings. So far in 2015, the staff has combined to strike out 8.4 batters per 9 innings. While striking out 0.7 more batters per game may not sound like much, it’s a dramatic increase, statistically speaking. Expect to see that number rise as the team’s hard-throwing relievers — Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm — return from injuries to shore up the rotation. The signings of starters Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have helped, as each has a K/9 rate above 8.
So can the Cubs continue to maintain the trend of outperforming their 2014 numbers? Only time will tell, and many of these numbers will regress to the mean with a larger sample size. For now, however, the Cubs continue show drastic improvement in key areas on the stat sheet, which is the best news Cubs fans have had in some time.MORE NEWS: Chicago Police Officers Refusing To Report Vaccine Status Expected To Protest Outside Police Headquarters Tuesday
Julie DiCaro is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Julie on Twitter @JulieDiCaro or onFacebook. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.