The 2021 Chicago Cubs are dancing up to the line of historic ineptitude. Since their first-ever combined no-hitter on June 25, the North Siders haven’t won a single game, and are currently in the midst of an 11-game skid that ranks among their worst in history. One more loss will tie them with the worst of this century: a 12-game train wreck that defined everything wrong with the 2012 Cubs.
Beginning on May 15 and ending on May 27, the streak saw the team drop from six games back in the standings to 12, cementing the Cubs’ status as a rebuilding basement dweller under the newly established Epstein regime. For as bad as they were though, this wasn’t a case of consistent sucking. They merely chose to suck when it mattered most.
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When the streak finally ended, the 2012 team was batting .195 when runners were aboard and the game was within reach, a mark so bad that had it stuck would have outpaced the 2003 Tigers (they of 119 losses). They weren’t much better by the end of the year, slashing .235./307/.371 in high leverage. In the big situations, they essentially became a slightly better Rafael Ortega.
The exact same was true on the pitching end. The Cubs were at their absolute worst in high leverage throughout the entire year, giving opponents an OPS+ of 125 when they desperately needed quiet innings. Their strikeout to walk rate was also abysmal as they only managed a 1.47 rate on the year. They hit rock bottom during the streak though, as they lost three pitchers to either demotion (Chris Volstad and Rafael Dolis) or retirement (Kerry Wood) after each had brutal outings.
The Chicago Cubs 2012 disaster is somehow less disastrous than 2021
The 2012 Cubs’ meltdown was brutal, but one that, looking back, doesn’t seem quite as bad given context. For what it’s worth, they hung in a few of those games only to trip up when it mattered most. It was also expected of them to be really bad. The team was still eagerly waiting for Anthony Rizzo to arrive and were years from having a strong core. The anatomy of this losing streak is simple: a bad team was even worse in the clutch and dropped some close games.
The 2021 Cubs do not have that context around them. Blowout losses are what truly sets these teams apart as they’ve led to the 2021 team being outscored 83 to 35, a worse rate than the 2012 team at 69 to 32.
Prior to Tuesday’s Phillies debacle, the 2021 team also had an OPS during their losing streak nearly 30 points lower than the 2012 team’s during theirs. The teams’ ERAs over the streaks? 5.63 in 2012 and 7.25 in 2021. In other words, it’s all been a disaster in 2021, not just in the clutch.
Despite all the awful stats about the 2021 team’s brutal 11-game skid, I hoped to find some solace in what happened in May of 2012. I was so horribly wrong. This disaster in the midst of 101 loss season pales in comparison to the nightmare the 2021 Cubs are experiencing and it’s sadly not over yet. For a team that was once leading their division, they are playing the part of a bottom-feeder.