What a difference a week makes. Entering last Monday’s series with the Cardinals, the Cubs were 47-20 after besting the Pirates in three straight games over the weekend.
Now, after being swept by the Cardinals at the friendly confines and then dropping three of four to the Marlins in Miami, Monday morning’s front page has a new tone — words like skid, struggle and slide are stealing the headlines.
From base running blunders to a lack of timely hitting, booted ground balls to bullpen woes — the Cubs are playing bad baseball. It must be noted, however, that none of the issues the Cubs are experiencing are detrimental in the long term. All can be, and will be, fixed.
The Cubs are 10-11 in one-run games, which is the worst mark of any of the division leaders.
Come October, it becomes crucial to win low scoring, tight games — surely you’ve heard the narrative. Right now, those games seem to be the ones the Cubs can’t win.
For nearly a month now, there have been rumors that the Cubs will go after one of the Yankees’ lanky left-handers: Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman. But a deal with the Bronx Bombers can’t be made just yet. If the Yankees decide to try to make a playoff run, they will likely keep their hard-throwing south paws. They currently sit just 2.5 games back of the second AL wild card spot, so their decision to buy or sell won’t come long before the Aug. 1 deadline.
Their bullpen ERA as a team ranks 11th in the bigs. Much of that cushion was built up in the early going, however, and now Joe Maddon’s confidence in his pen appears to be at an all-time low.
Over the last five games, Cubs relievers have pitched 14.2 innings, allowing 13 runs. The Cubs need to make a move — the sooner, the better. Their middle relievers have struggled to keep the team in ball games and set-up man Pedro Strop’s shaky performance as of late are concerning.
The Cubs front office knows this team’s needs better than anyone. If they plan to end the team’s World Series draught, they’ll have to make a big splash in the coming weeks. Help is coming shortly.
Other than the Rangers, whose farm system is loaded, it’s difficult to find a team that could outbid the Cubs for a reliever. There are plenty of good arms available, and the Cubs have the prospects to acquire the help they need in the backend of the pen.
The Cubs scored an average of six runs a game during the first six weeks of the season. Considering no team in the last ten seasons has kept up a six run per game pace for an entire season, they were bound to come back down to Earth. They finally have.
They rank 17th in the bigs in runs scored this month. In their six losses last week, the club scored just 16 runs (that includes the six runs they scored on Saturday).
The Cubs have missed their spark plug at the top of the lineup, Dexter Fowler. Their leadoff man was having a career year, hitting .290/.398/.483 before injuring his hamstring. Ben Zobrist, who tore it up in the month of May, hitting an uncanny .406/.483/.653, has struggled mightily in the month of June. He’s hit just .189/.326/.297 and hasn’t been able to be the type of table-setter that Fowler was.
Slugger Kris Bryant hit just .150/.269/.350 in their last seven games, and Jason Heyward, whose 2016 shortcomings have been well documented, hit an abysmal .182/.308/.227 over that same stretch. With a few key contributors in a slump and injuries piling up, runs have been difficult to come by.
It’s time for Cubs fans to head for the exits.
After losing six of seven games, there seems to be no other option. It’s over. Stick a fork in it. It’s done.
I’m kidding. Cubs fans around the world, join in and take a deep breath on the count of three. One, two, three — breathe in slowly, hold, just a little longer now — and exhale. Every little thing is gonna be alright, just like Bob Marley always told you.
The Cubs open this week with three games against the last-place Reds. Cincinnati has the league’s worst team ERA (5.35), and the Cubs may be catching them at just the right time. The first half of June was kind to the Reds, they started the month 9-4. Since, they have lost eight of their last 11 and allowed 5.45 runs a game over that span. This is the perfect time for the Cubs to get their bats rocking again before the All-star break.
It’s a long season, full of ups and downs — it’s nearly impossible to stay hot for a 162-game season. This week, the Cubs can rekindle their spark and return to the team they were not long ago: one with an explosive offense and extremely reliable starting pitching.
The Cubs don’t have any issues that cannot be addressed. Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella and Dexter Fowler should return from injury soon. Couple that with a move or two at the deadline, and the Cubs will be ready to go for the second half of the season. Lastly, it’s important to mention one more time that the Cubs still have a nine game lead in the division. We seem to have forgotten that. The current state of the bullpen is concerning, but can be addressed. And the offensive slump is no reason to panic, it happens.
It was a bad week. It’s time to move forward.
Kevin McCarthy, a junior at the University of Illinois, is serving an internship at Scout.com this summer and covering the Cubs for NorthSidersReport. You can follow him at @KevOMcCarthy on Twitter or contact him by e-mail at Kevin.McCarthy00@yahoo.com