Off Day Trivia: A Few Things About These Cubs

Every now and then I like to play around with filters on stat sheets to compare players, and most of those searches, as you might imagine, are Cubs-centric. Given that it’s an off-day, today seems like a good day to share some of the tidbits I’ve collected, some through my own research, others through the hard work of others. Let’s get going.

Anthony Rizzo is the first left-handed Cubs first baseman to hit 30 homeruns since Fred McGriff.

Derrek Lee’s 46 homers in 2005 have been the most in Cubs history at first base. Ernie Banks and his 37 in 1962 sit in second place. Then it’s Lee again with 35 in 2009 for third. Anthony Rizzo’s breakout in 2015 saw him hit 32 dingers, earning him the fourth highest homerun total for a first baseman in Cubs history. Rizzo broke Fred McGriff’s 2002 record of 30 bombs that season. Prior to the Crime Dog’s 2002, Leon Durham held the record for homers by a lefty first baseman with 23 in 1984. Carlos Pena got close in 2010 with 28. 

First base has, for as long as I’ve watched baseball, been the power position. The big, hulking lefty at first was a staple for many successful clubs in the 2000s, and it always sort of bothered me that the Cubs didn’t have one. Now sure, Lee’s 2005 and 2009 were a treat, but it didn’t compare to the fear imposed on me as a fan by Milwaukee’s Prince Fielder, New York’s Jason Giambi and Carlos Delgado, San Diego’s Adrian Gonzalez, and many others. The lineup just felt much more balanced with those dudes in it. Not to mention lefty first basemen can make tags, throws to third, and diving plays with much more ease. It feels really nice to have Anthony Rizzo.

Anthony Rizzo is the first lefty since Hall of Famer Billy Williams to post consecutive 30-homerun seasons.

The Chicago Cubs have paid for 58 seasons that have resulted in at least 30 jimmy jacks. Of those, only eight have come from the left-handed batter’s box, as presented below.

Billy Williams 42 1970
Billy Williams 37 1972
Bill Nicholson 33 1944
Anthony Rizzo 32 2014
Rick Monday 32 1976
Anthony Rizzo 31 2015
Rick Wilkins 30 1993
Billy Williams 30 1968
Fred McGriff 30 2002

When Rizzo hit his 30th tater of the 2015 season, he joined Sweet Swingin’ Billy in franchise history as the only left-handed mashers to club 30-plus gopher balls in consecutive seasons. Cool enough, that shot was also the 100th of Rizzo’s Cubs career. Let’s just all agree to pretend that San Diego never happened.

Jon Lester broke the franchise record for strikeouts by a left-handed pitcher in his first season.

I like southpaws. I swear this won’t be entirely about lefties, but they’re harder to find and the Cubs have historically been bad at finding them, so it only makes sense that recent lefty acquisitions have shattered milestones. Way back in the day, a young starter for the Cubs had a career year in terms of accumulating strikeout totals. Ken Holtzman wasn’t the biggest guy, but he sure seemed to have been durable, if the 287 2/3 innings pitched total from his 1970 season is to be believed. He was a 6-foot-2 boy from the Show Me State and managed to send 202 batters back to the dugout with their heads hanging down. Good ole Kenneth Dale became a legend ‘round these parts, as it seemed no southpaw would ever touch his record.

That is, until Theo Epstein gave an old friend $155 million dollars to stand on his mound at Wrigley Field and embarrass 207 hitters with a his dart-like accuracy. In 82 fewer innings than Mr. Holtzman threw, Jon Lester shattered the older man’s record on the final start of his debut season with the Cubs. He stood 6-foot-4 and weighed 235. Kinda broad at the shoulder and narrow at the hip. And everybody knew you didn’t give no lip to Big Bad Jon.

Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey are first trio to have received wins in first three games of a Cubs season since 1958.

Friday night as I drove home I tuned into the Cubs radio broadcast. Pat Hughes and the rest of the team at 670 The Score didn’t disappoint. The first thing I hear is some trivia that the top of the 2016 Cubs’ rotation is the first to receive W’s in the first three starts of the season since 1958, when Jim Brosnan, Glen Hobbie, and Dick Drott did it. Think about that—57 seasons have started since then. Of those 57, the Cubs have managed a 3-0 start only three times.

In 1969 the Cubs opened the season hosting the Philadelphia Phillies. Staff ace and Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins toed the mound for the baby bears. Jenkins was going for the complete game victory, having allowed only two runs and striking out nine over the first eight frames. Don Money came up with two runners on, clubbed a three-run homer that knotted the game up at five. The Cubs would eventually come back in the 11th inning to win it the game 7-6. Reliever Phil Regan was the recipient of the win. The Cubs would win the next two games with both Bill Hands and Ken Holtzman winning their starts.

In 1988 the Cubs opened the season with a brief two-game series versus the Atlanta Braves. Rick Sutcliffe was handed the ball on Opening Day, but he was rocked to the tune of eight earned runs in only four innings pitched. The Cubs came back, however, and won it 10-9 over 13 innings. Greg Maddux won the second game, sweeping the series, and Jamie Moyer beat the Montreal Expos to complete the 3-0 start.

And in 1995, the Cubs began the season at Cincinnati. Jim Bullinger had the first game of the two-game series and shut out the Reds for six innings, winning his start. Steve Trachsel, however, left the second game of the season after only four innings pitched and 68 pitches, disqualifying him for the win. The Cubs’ bullpen came in clutch and kept the Reds at bay. Reliever Tom Edens was the recipient of the dubbya. Kevin Foster won his outing, completing the 3-0 start to the season.

Funny enough—the 1975 Cubs lost on Opening Day, but they won eight straight afterward. During that streak, Steve Stone, Rick Reuschel, and Bill Bonham won their starts in games three, four, five respectively. Arbitrary end points!

These following tweets:

This past March, Joel Reese compared the on-paper 2016 Cubs to the best teams in recent franchise history. While that was an aggressive comparison, these following tweets show that they have taken one heckuva step towards fill those shoes:

Olney’s tweet hits me the hardest. Run Differential is often used as a talent evaluation statistic because it doesn’t lend itself to the biases of how a team wins; instead, it focuses on the prevention and production of runs. Doesn’t matter how you do it if you’re outscoring teams by a lot, right? Is this the first season the Cubs have both a potent lineup and stingy pitching staff? Probably not. Is this the first time they’ve both clicked in conjunction this early in the season? I’d bet a shiny nickel on that.

Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports.

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