During the Chicago Cubs’ recent woes, some point to pitching as the issue. No matter the pitching, clutch at-bats must become a regular occurrence to win.
Entering play Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs dropped four-straight on their California road trip. First, it was a three-game sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers. On Memorial Day, the San Diego Padres got in on the fun, taking down the Cubs in the series opener.
At this point, most fans don’t care where the blame goes. Joe Maddon for allowing Kyle Schwarber to lead off with dismal results for a month-and-a-half? Veteran arms like John Lackey and Jake Arrieta? Or does the blame lie with a lineup that has woefully underperformed through the season’s first two months?
A little of each, to be sure. The starting pitching, one of the team’s strong suits last year, has been disappointing for the most part. Maddon continues to preach his same advice of patience. But the offense seems to be the biggest hole in the reigning champs’ game.
In the series-opening loss to San Diego, Chicago went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Apart from a Jason Heyward RBI knock early, the bats came up empty yet again.
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Entering play Monday, the Cubs carried a .217 average as a team with runners in scoring position. That mark ranks third-worst in all of Major League Baseball. Oddly enough, one of the other two clubs is the American League champion Cleveland Indians.
When you don’t deliver clutch hits, you don’t win games. It’s simple as that. On paper, Chicago has enough talent to pick apart teams like the Padres time and time again. But, as we know full well, baseball isn’t played on paper.
Fading star power from Maddon’s young team
Chicago lacks a single player with more than 30 games played and a batting average of .300. Anthony Rizzo leads the team with 30 runs batted in; meanwhile, no other player boasts more than 23.
Kris Bryant ranks second on the club in both runs batted in and long-balls, trailing his partner across the diamond in both accounts. Both of these men could certainly improve, but it’s the supporting cast that must improve if the Cubs are to regain form.
Pieces like Kyle Schwarber, Addison Russell and Willson Contreras are integral for the team’s offense. The former is in the midst of the roughest slump of his young career and perhaps unreasonable (at the very least lofty) expectations for the latter two have soured fans early in 2017.
But moving Ben Zobrist into the leadoff role seems to be paying dividends. The veteran switch hitter recorded a trio of walks in Monday’s loss to San Diego. Maddon hopes the calm demeanor of Zo will make its way down the lineup, but, at least for now, it’s a small improvement.
No matter how solid the Cubs’ pitching is – and it’s shaky, at-best, this team will continue to fall short of expectations. That is, unless the offense picks up its pace and at least heads in a direction similar to 2016.
No one is asking for an MVP from Bryant or 95 RBI from Russell. But consistent clutch at-bats would have to happen to turn this season around before the All-Star Break.