Apr 18, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs second baseman Emilio Bonifacio (64) hits a single against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Cubs' struggles with runners in scoring position a major issue

Another day, another loss in the books.

One day after snapping a five-game losing streak, the Chicago Cubs’ offense reverted back to its lackluster form, tallying only two late runs in an 8-2 loss to the Reds at Wrigley Field. Once again, the team’s struggles with runners in scoring position was a major issue – an alarming trend that has continued from 2013.

On Sunday, the club went just 3-for-15 (.200) and stranded 14 runners on base. The team, as a whole, tallied a respectable 11 base hits in the loss, showing that Cubs’ hitters aren’t struggling at the dish all around; they’re just not hitting when it counts.

Through today’s game, Chicago is stranding 3.75 runners in scoring position per game – up from last year’s tally of 3.37 runners per game, according to Team Rankings. This year’s figure ranks 20th in all of Major League Baseball and is better than just three National League teams – the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks.

Right-handed pitchers have proven to be a challenge for the Cubs, with the offense .227 – over 20 points lower than against southpaws, although neither mark is particularly impressive. Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo, both of whom are among the Cubs’ leading offensive options on a daily basis have been major points of concern through the first three weeks of the campaign.

Castro, who leads the club with 9 RBIs this season, is struggling to keep himself above the Mendoza Line, hitting just .217 with runners in scoring position. That being said, eight of his runs batted in have come with runners in scoring position.

The Chicago backstop has a home run and 5 RBIs with runners in scoring position, but is hitting just .200 in his 15 at-bats. With both Castillo and Castro struggling in clutch situations, more of the burden has fallen on the shoulders of first baseman Anthony Rizzo – and he has not disappointed.

In 14 at-bats with runners in scoring position, the left-handed swinging Rizzo has hit a robust .357/.444/.429. He has been impressive early on, even against lefties, against whom he regularly was held out of the lineup in 2013. Rizzo is hitting .375 against left-handers in 2014, as opposed to his .189 mark in 2013. Granted, it’s an admittedly small sample size,  but his improved at-bats are something to keep an eye on as the season continues.

Heading into a matchup at home against the worst team in the National League in the Arizona Diamondbacks (5-15), Chicago could be facing a make-or-break situation early on in the regular season. While this club was never expected to contend in the National League Central, another series loss could set a tone that can permeate the rest of the campaign.

Look for Rizzo to lead the way against Arizona, and if Castro and Castillo can perform better in clutch situations, this Chicago team might turn things around at home this week. If not, this team will undoubtedly make a run at another 100-loss season.

Tags: Chicago Cubs

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