Six days ago, the Chicago Cubs were 39-30, had just slain the two-headed monster of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke of the Los Angeles Dodger and had many asking if, just maybe, the Cubs’ above-average performance was just early rumblings of a team that even perpetual optimists were undervaluing.
That was six days ago.
Today, the Cubs sit at 39-35, limping out of St. Louis after a three game sweep at the hands of their division leading rivals, which came on the heels of dropping the final two games against the Dodgers. Baseball is a long, long season, but as far as week-long skids go, this one hurts.
The most apparent reason for this skid is the anemic offense. Here are a few of the season-long stats for the Cubs offense: 25th in hits, 22nd in runs (295), 22nd in batting average (.245), 29th in strikeout percentage (24.4%), 20th in slugging (.387), and 25th with RISP (.232).
The Cubs have put up a measly 6 runs in the last 5 games –greatly explaining their 0-5 record in those games. Over the last seven games, the Cubs are hitting .227 with just 11 runs (10 earned), three home runs, and 59 strikeouts to 22 walks. It was common knowledge that the Cubs, with all of their youth, would strikeout a high amount; the trade-off was that they would do damage. When the slugging isn’t coming –which it hasn’t been consistently– the strikeouts become alarming and collective offenses look like garbage.
Due to the youth on this team, the stretches of inexperience and fatigue were expected, so there’s no big picture panic because of one lousy week. Perhaps another optimistic view is that the downturn in offensive production was fairly predictable.
With Jorge Soler currently rehabbing, on a given night, the Cubs have Matt Szczur, Mike Baxter, and Jonathan Herrera holding bats. Often times, that is on top of David Ross and a pitcher holding bats. What looked like a fairly vaunted, even if inconsistent, lineup, has turned into a very top-heavy one. That’s not to criticize the above players as being worthless, it’s to say you can’t run that handful of players out as starters every night and expect to win. Because when Anthony Rizzo isn’t hitting .340 (he’s hitting .280 in June), and getting on base at historic levels, and Kris Bryant and Addison Russell predictably hit growing pains, you begin to rely more on the Dexter Fowlers and Miguel Monteros of the world. But where do you turn when Fowler gets nicked up and Montero is benched in favor of Ross?
There’s just not enough left to carry an offense, unless you have an elite pitching staff, which the Cubs do not.
Everyone knew the Cubs would hit roadblocks on their way to relevancy. It’s unfortunate that the offensive doldrums had to come into focus over a weekend in St. Louis, but the overall picture, despite its current flavor, is still right on course.
If you would have asked any intelligent Cubs fan if they would have been pleased with 39-35 after 74 games, not one would have scoffed. This is a good young team in a predictably young team type of slump. They may not be championship caliber yet, but their mantra is correct: #WeAreGood.
They just haven’t been this last week.