PITTSBURGH — Small sample sizes are often misleading, and many observers already have twisted themselves into pretzels watching the Cubs’ start to the 2021 season. It is far too early to make any definitive statements about this Cubs team, but some things stood out in the first week that should remain on everyone’s radar.
Here are two major takeaways from the first week of the regular season:
The real Kris Bryant has returned
Nobody knew which version of third baseman Kris Bryant, in possibly his last season in a Cubs uniform, the team would be getting in 2021. Through the first week of the regular season, Bryant looks like he has gotten his swagger back.
His demeanor at the plate is different from last year, when he played only 34 games. Bryant, 29, appears to be healthier than he was in 2020, and there’s a quiet confidence that he’s going to do damage.
“The ball has been coming off nice and loud from where I’m sitting,” manager David Ross said. “He looks like he’s extremely comfortable and getting off some really good swings and also taking some really good walks against some tough pitchers. I think Kris is in a good place.”
Bryant has a 14.3% walk rate in seven games and is seeing four pitches per plate appearance, but it’s not just the peripherals that make Bryant’s first week so intriguing. It’s also the quality of his at-bats.
He’s drawing his fair share of walks and taking the ball to the opposite field with authority, telltale signs of a player who’s comfortable at the plate.
“Early on in the season, it’s good to get walks,” Bryant said. “You’re a little anxious to get the season going, you kind of want to jump out and get your hits, but taking the walks is just as important, especially for me.
‘‘When I feel anxious, I’m reaching for balls and chasing things out of the zone. I’m not taking a walk. So you know, just to be patient at the plate this early in the season is a good feeling.”
Revamped rotation answering bell
It was the biggest question mark going into the season, and, so far, the Cubs’ rotation has been impressive.
New additions Jake Arrieta, Zach Davies and Trevor Williams have pitched well and given their offense a chance.
“It’s nice,” Ross said. “We got a long season to go, but it’s refreshing for the new guys to perform.
‘‘All the things that we expect that they can do, to have them go out and do it and really look nice and clean and sharp and throwing strikes [is great].
“I think the additions we made were maybe a little under the radar, but it’s nice for them to get off to a good start in a Cubs uniform, and I [see] a lot of confidence in those guys.
‘‘Being able to handle the environment their first time out there on the bump in the field with fans back in the stands, it’s nice to see.”
Williams flirted with history during his first start, and Davies had a successful Cubs debut, as well, but it’s Arrieta’s start to the season that might be a harbinger for the rotation’s success.
The 35-year-old right-hander is 2-0 with a 2.25 ERA in two quality starts against the Pirates.
The Cubs don’t need Arrieta to pitch at a Cy Young level for his second stint in Chicago to be a success, but they do need competent innings, which he has provided.
Arrieta, who has been critical of his stuff, has been able to get through two starts without his entire repertoire. That bodes well for him and should give the Cubs confidence that there’s more to come the rest of the -season.
“It’s only gonna get better,” Arrieta said.