Entering a weekend series with the Milwaukee Brewers, the Chicago Cubs find themselves in a less-than-savory position, some 13 games under .500 and looking up at the rest of the National League Central.
The club’s .373 winning percentage ranks dead last among the 30 Major League Baseball teams and Chicago is the only team that is more than 10 games below the even mark – leading many to take a closer look at the Cubs and what has happened for things to reach such a disappointing point.
Much the same as last year, the team’s offense is largely to blame. Chicago will head into this weekend matchup with their northern rivals hitting a collective .231 – which ranks 29th in all of baseball. What’s even more disturbing is the fact that the team has an on-base percentage of just .298 and is slugging just .361.
In short, there isn’t much to be excited about regarding the Cubs’ offense.
Starlin Castro continues to be solid at the plate for first-year skipper Ricky Renteria, and despite a 4-for-23 (.174) stretch over the past seven days, is still hitting .272/.312/.442 on the year with seven home runs. It’s important to note than last year, which was Castro’s worst as a professional, the shortstop hit just 10 home runs in the entire season.
Another franchise cornerstone, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, is caught in the throes of a nasty cold spell as well, hitting just .182 over the course of the past week. That being said, he’s on pace to hit 25 homers and drive in somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 runs this season – with an average in the mid-.260s. Granted, many Cubs fans want to see more runs batted in by the young left-handed hitter, but the simply truth is that Chicago doesn’t have enough runners on in front of Rizzo for him to do damage on a regular basis.
The team’s struggles in clutch situations has been well-documented, but, in fact, there are teams worse than Chicago in that department. The Cubs strand just over 3.5 runners in scoring position per game, which ranks 15th among big league clubs. However, the offense is managing just 3.8 runs per game, which ranks 26th in Major League Baseball.
A constant question mark with this team’s offense is the young third baseman Mike Olt. He leads National League rookies with 10 home runs this season, adding 24 RBIs. While his power has been admittedly impressive (he’s on pace for the same 25 long-balls and 75-ish runs batted in as Rizzo), his line of .168/.241/.408 in 44 games leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Olt hasn’t homered since May 18 and has not tallied a multi-hit contest since back on May 12, another indicator of how much he’s struggled to make consistent contact. With the Cubs caught in another non-competitive season, there’s no reason to not continue to throw Olt out there, but his ability to make contact and his overall approach at the dish will be under scrutiny from the organization and fans alike for the rest of 2014.
On the other side of things, Chicago pitchers have went above and beyond this season for Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio – who should get a lot of the credit for what’s been done. He is a large part of southpaw Travis Wood‘s resurgence and 2013 NL All-Star nod and his handiwork is noticeable again in 2014.
The Cubs pitching staff has been above-average by most statistical measures this season, and when you look at some of the numbers this group has put together, it makes the team’s Pythagorean W/L record of 24-27 look much more realistic.
One of the most prominent statistics that should be noted is the fact that opposing hitters are batting just .239 against Cubs pitchers this season. The rotation has been headlined by right-hander Jeff Samardzija who is well on his way to an All-Star bid thanks to a sterling 1.68 earned run average in 75 innings spanning 11 starts this season. The main question with the 29-year-old ace moving forward is whether or not he’ll be wearing the blue pinstripes come July’s trade deadline.
Edwin Jackson has improved in the month of May, posting a 4.30 ERA for the Cubs, which is below his career average of 4.48. Keeping the right-hander in this range throughout the rest of his contract would make him a major asset to the organization as an innings-eater, at the very least.
As a staff, the Cubs rank near the middle of the pack (17th) in quality starts, in the top third (10th) with a WHIP of 1.25 and rank ninth with a solid earned run average of 3.55. Largely, the pitchers have been subject to shoddy defense behind them and an offense that’s as unreliable as they come.
Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Wood have been solid, posting earned run averages of 3.20, 3.08 and 4.35, respectively, and both of the right-handers could very well be popular trade attractions in the next month that would be considerably cheaper than the likes of Samardzija.
You can’t ask more out of the pitching staff. But it’s time that the bats do their part to help move this team at least a little bit closer to respectability in 2014.