From 2018 through 2020 the Chicago Cubs are -6 in games decided by one run and the low point was losing 27 of 46 in 2019. So far they are +2 in 2021.
In 2021, of the six losses in games decided by one run, four have come in the team’s last ten games and all six in the last three weeks. However, there are a couple of silver linings here. The first is that only two of the six losses came in the last two innings so the Cubs aren’t blowing these games late because of relief pitching.
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Second, none of the MLB division leaders except the Oakland Athletics are performing much better than the Cubs in games decided by one run. The A’s, meanwhile, are 9-3.
So why worry? Because this team isn’t built to withstand a season where 50-plus games are decided by one run.
The powerful, constantly-slugging 2016 Cubs anchored by a trio of top-of-the-rotation starters were one game under .500 in games decided by one run at 22-23. No one cared because they were 42-13 in blowouts, games decided by five or more runs. They just slugged their way out of trouble.
In 2017 and 2018 those numbers began to level out, with fewer blowout wins and more games won that were decided by one run.
But even those days are over. So far the 2021 Cubs are 5-7 in blowouts. The offense has risen and fallen on a weekly basis. With twenty percent of the season in the books, the 18-19 Cubs have played 14 games decided by one run. That’s almost 40 percent.
At that rate, the club will play over 60 games decided by one run. They haven’t the pitching depth in the rotation or the bullpen to pull that off.
Cubs: We’ve always known it would come down to the bats, didn’t we?
We knew it the minute they traded Yu Darvish, signed Zach Davies, and Kyle Hendricks defaulted into the number one starter role. The starting pitching was going to put a lot of pressure on that bullpen and the bats were the only relief for that.
When Chicago has hit they have mostly won. But the starting pitching is losing games. Remember those seven blowout losses? All of them are on the starting pitching.
Willson Contreras seems to be back on track, slashing .412/.500/.412 with a .912 OPS over the last five games heading into Sunday. The same cannot be said of Anthony Rizzo, whose numbers have been in decline since the end of the first couple weeks of the season.
Joc Pederson and Javier Baez have each had their struggles in different ways and that needs to end as well. Heyward will just be Heyward. Only Kris Bryant is reprising his 2015-2016 self and that’s not enough to carry the whole team. This season is going to come down to the Cubs hitters putting up big numbers and they aren’t doing that – at least not yet.