Enjoy the Cubs’ early-season offensive fireworks while you can

Their average of 5.76 runs per game (through Sunday) is impressive, but it’s unlikely to be sustainable

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Cubs slugger Patrick Wisdom has a .989 OPS so far this season, fueled primarily by a .679 slugging percentage.

Cubs slugger Patrick Wisdom has a .989 OPS so far this season, fueled primarily by a .679 slugging percentage.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Cubs being an offensive juggernaut is a twist few saw coming for 2023.

Nonetheless, through Sunday, the Cubs led the National League and were third in the majors with an average of 5.76 runs per game. Their .796 OPS was second to the Rays’ .891, and they had slugged 28 home runs after hitting a combined 16 in March and April last season.

Is that sustainable? Probably not.

Patrick Wisdom (.989), Nico Hoerner (.873), Ian Happ (.924) and Seiya Suzuki (.880) all have OPSes higher than their career-best seasons. Dansby Swanson (.751) is a bit shy of his .776 in 2022, and Cody Bellinger has taken a big step up at .930. That can’t touch his career year of 1.035 in 2019, but it’s a leap from the .789, .542 and .654 of the last three seasons.

Some leveling off is likely, as is normal when big early-season numbers are involved.

Wisdom, who is hitting .256 with a .310 on-base percentage, has his OPS boosted by a .679 slugging percentage that ranks fifth in the majors. His nine homers rank third. In Cubs history, that March/April total trails only Alfonso Soriano, who hit 10 in 2011.

Most of his damage has come in the air. Wisdom’s ground-ball percentage is down to 24.5% after 34.1% last season, with his fly balls up from 48.8% to 53.1% and his line drives up from 17.1% to 22.4%.

And it has been hard contact. Wisdom’s average exit velocity of 94.2 mph ranks 11th in the majors, and he ranks seventh with barrels on 22% of batted balls.

Hoerner, at .355/.400/.473, has been a huge plus batting leadoff. The on-base percentage for Cubs leadoff men last season was only .307. The major-league average for leadoff men was .320.

Hoerner’s on-base percentage was .327 last season, though he did manage .382 in 170 plate appearances in 2021. His 6% walk rate trails the 9% major-league average, so Hoerner’s 2023 success has relied on a .369 batting average on balls in play. That’s 74 points higher than the major-league average and 69 points higher than Hoerner’s BABiP in his first full season in 2022. A dip is likely.

Happ’s career-high .898 OPS came in 140 plate appearances in 2019. He broke 500 plate appearances for the first time with 535 in 2021 and had 641 last season, with corresponding OPSes of .757 and .781.

Happ, at .307/.418/.507, has had a balanced game. His 15 walks represent 16.5% of his 91 plate appearances, and while he has hit only two homers, nine doubles have bolstered his slugging percentage. And he has earned it: Statcast data at baseballsavant.mlb.com puts his expected slugging percentage at .512.

Suzuki has only 41 plate appearances, so April oddness is to be expected. At .324/.439/.441, he’s up from a .770 OPS last season. But he closed 2022 strong, hitting .282/.354/.493 in September and October.

It has been fun to watch, but can the Cubs keep scoring nearly six runs a game? Let’s just say that’s asking a bit much.

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