Covering the bases on the Chicago Cubs: Shota Imanaga is astonishing and a trade deadline look ahead


Hey, Cubs subscribers!

We’re excited to kick off our new weekly segment, “Covering the Bases,” where we dive into all the latest and greatest happenings with your team. From big plays, quizzes and the best reads on your favorite team, you can view this as your backstage pass from our two beat reporters on the team to all things Cubs in the last week. Let us know in the comments if you like this story format.

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Power rankings: Chicago Cubs are No. 9

In this week’s power rankings, we went with our “wish you were here” theme, highlighting one injured player that would make a difference.

Previous ranking: 7

Wish you were here: Seiya Suzuki

Suzuki has been a plus hitter since joining the Cubs, but he’s been operating at an elite level since last summer. He batted .313 with a .938 OPS in the second half in 2023, then started hot this season, with a .305 batting average and .893 OPS in 15 games before injuring his oblique in April.

Suzuki and Cody Bellinger (ribs) could return to the lineup this week. The Cubs have held together just fine without them. And though the rotation lost Marcus Stroman this offseason, Cubs starters currently have the fourth-best ERA in the majors — and they accomplished that without Justin Steele, who returned Monday. — Stephen J. Nesbitt


Big League Quiz


The latest hits

ICYMI, our national writers weighed in with what they are hearing and seeing

1. A reason for optimism (and pessimism)

Jim Bowden noted a reason for every club to feel hope and one reason to not. Here is what he said about the Cubs:

Reason for optimism: Shota Imanaga looks like the best value signing of the offseason as he’s gone 5-0 with a 0.78 ERA and is pitching like he’ll be in the Cy Young Award conversation this year. Javier Assad has broken out this season with a 1.97 ERA over six starts and Jameson Taillon has impressed since coming off the IL, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three outings. Michael Busch was another shrewd offseason pickup by the Cubs; the former Dodgers prospect has six homers and 17 RBIs as their new first baseman.

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Shota Imanaga of the Cubs celebrates after the third out of the sixth inning against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday. (Griffin Quinn / Getty Images)

Reason for pessimism: Cody Bellinger is on the IL with a fractured rib, Ian Happ is hitting .211, Christopher Morel is at .209, Nick Madrigal is at .195. Nico Hoerner has yet to hit a home run and has been caught stealing twice in six attempts. (Last year he had an 86 percent success rate.)

2. He’s not throwing away his Shota

Jayson Stark’s Weird and Wild dabbled in Shotamania:

He’s not throwing away his Shota — Shota Imanaga, Cubs ace. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d be typing a couple of months ago. But here we are. Check out this guy’s astonishing line after the first six starts of his Cubs (and big-league) career:

5-0
5 runs allowed
4 walks allowed

So ponder this. Fewer walks than wins? As many runs as wins? Hey Chicago, what do you say? Amazing, right?

It’s so amazing, in fact, that I could only find two other starting pitchers in the expansion era (1961-2024) whose walk and run totals didn’t top their win totals in their first six starts of a season … let alone their first six starts ever.

Cliff Lee, 2008 Indians
6-0
5 runs
2 walks

Frank Viola, 1990 Twins
6-0
5 runs
5 walks

If I changed the qualifications from “runs” to “earned runs,” we could also add another iconic name — Juan Marichal, 1966 (6-0, 5 ER, 5 BB). But whatever. If that’s the crowd Shota Imanaga plans to hang out with all year, or for the rest of his career, he’s going to be a star.

3. The pitches they couldn’t master

Andy McCullough and Stephen Nesbitt talked to a dozen all-stars about that one pitch they couldn’t master. On the panel for the Cubs was Justin Steele:

Justin Steele: Splitter

At his locker this spring, Steele held a ball in his left hand. When he releases the ball, his wrist turns inward (supinates). He’s naturally on the left side of the ball, which makes his fastball cut and his slider move more. Anything running inside on a right-handed hitter, Steele said, is an easy pitch to pick up. Anything going the other way — sinker, splitter, changeup — is a challenge.

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Justin Steele of the Chicago Cubs pitching in the National League All-Star team in July 2023. (Matt Dirksen / Getty Images)

Last season, Steele finished fifth in NL Cy Young voting throwing 96.5 percent four-seamers and sliders. He threw 48 sinkers and 28 changeups. He continues looking for an ideal changeup grip. His current one — spreading his fingers fairly far apart and trying to get on top of the seam — looks almost like a splitter grip. Seeing fellow Cubs lefty Shota Imanaga’s splitter only makes Steele want one more.

“I’d kill to have a good one,” Steele said.


Baseball beat

Our beat writers Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma picked out what you need to know

Looking ahead to the trade deadline

Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer has already begun preliminary work on possible deals, so he wasn’t surprised when the Miami Marlins flipped Luis Arraez to the San Diego Padres for prospects. Sooner or later, Hoyer will have to make moves to improve a bullpen that looks like the glaring weakness for a playoff contender.  

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Javier Assad of the Chicago Cubs pitching in a game last year. (Matt Dirksen / Getty Images)

Why the rotation dominated

The Cubs rotation has been dominant to start the year and a big reason why is Javier Assad. Instead of just waiting for him to struggle, it may just be time to accept that Assad is a quality starter who can consistently impact a winning team.


Did you catch this? 

Jon Greenberg writes that Justin Steele and Shota Imanaga can give the Cubs a 1-2 punch they need.

The starters are not only keeping the Cubs near the top of the division during a tough spring stretch but they also have people wondering just how good this team can be when, and if, they get right.

It’s one thing to have Justin Steele and Shota Imanaga start the first two games of a series in early May. But think about it in October. … OK, enough daydreaming. It’s the first week of May and the Cubs bullpen is more flammable than a dumpster full of cooking oil.

And yet …

To come off a weekend series in which three starters threw at least six scoreless innings and then have Steele and Imanaga ready to go, it’s not a bad thing.


Viral moment of the week

“Bear Down, Chicago Bears.” The sight of Caleb Williams might have generated the loudest noise at the Friendly Confines so far this season.


Back to school

Dexter Fowler, the “you go, we go” leadoff guy for the 2016 World Series team, went back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree in organizational and professional communication after finishing his coursework online through Penn State World Campus.

(Top photo of Shota Imanaga: Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Today)





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