As summer approaches, Cubs know where they stand — ‘We need to start piling up some Ws’
Those were the first 2 batted balls by Cubs players Sunday afternoon at Wrigley Field — a pair of absolute rocket line drives off the bats of Nico Hoerner and Dansby Swanson.
Yet both were hit directly at Reds centerfielder Jose Barrero and the end result was 2 quick outs in the bottom of the 1st inning.
That’s the way it’s been going for the Cubs lately.
Baseball has a way of evening out over 162 games and for Swanson, it happened in the same contest. In his next at-bat in the 3rd inning Sunday, he hit a 46.5 mph tapper down the third base line and wound up beating it out for a single.
The Cubs are certainly hoping for more of that positive regression in the luck department but they also realize that it doesn’t do any good to sit back and simply complain about their bad draw.
They need wins and results — and they need them soon.
The rebuilding Reds came into Wrigley Field this weekend and swept the Cubs, outscoring the North Siders 25-10 and outhitting the Cubs 45-19.
“We keep harping on this but we’re certainly better than our record indicates,” Trey Mancini said. “But at the same time, your record is what it is so you gotta find a way to turn it around — and especially win those close games.”
Even with the weekend sweep, the Cubs still boast a +4 run differential on the season which actually ranks 6th in the NL.
“There’s good things happening, it’s just putting it all together,” Ian Happ said. “You look at the run differentials across the league. It doesn’t reflect a team that has our record. There’s some brighter spots in there. We just gotta find a way to win more games.”
The Cubs’ record has been in a bit of a freefall after a hot start to the season.
David Ross’ squad hit the road on April 28 with a 14-10 record and fresh off a series victory over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. Up next was a week-long road trip against two teams that were not expected to compete for a playoff spot this season (Marlins and Nationals).
The Cubs lost 6 of 7 games with 5 of those defeats coming by only 1 run.
They haven’t been able to get on a roll since as their loss Saturday night to the Reds not only dropped the Cubs to last place in the division but also to the worst winning percentage in the NL.
“We’re not playing up to our caliber. I think everyone’s aware of that,” said Patrick Wisdom, who accounted for all of the Cubs’ offense on Sunday with 2 homers and 5 RBI. “But it’s baseball. At any point, it can turn in our favor. We still have a lot of belief in this clubhouse and we believe in one another and so I think that’s key for us to keep going and not lose that faith.”
Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial start of summer and serves as the first real checkpoint in a Major League Baseball season. As the holiday approached, Ross provided an honest assessment of where his team stands.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Ross said. “I’m sure of that. I think there’s still a lot of potential to be better in a lot of areas. We had some success early on and kinda hit a little bit of a rut in this last month and haven’t really gotten on any kind of a roll.
“You can point to a lot of different areas where we can be better but collectively as a group, the team works really hard and brings the competitiveness, the work ethic, their intensity every single day.
“There’s moments we could’ve been better out of the bullpen. There’s moments as of late our offense hasn’t really started to roll as a whole. We’ve gotten some good starting pitching the most consistently but we definitely have our blips like anybody does. As a whole, we’re not where we want to be. I definitely know that.”
Things won’t get any easier for the Cubs anytime soon.
Baseball’s best team -— the Tampa Bay Rays — come into Wrigley Field for a 3-game series beginning Monday and after an off-day, the Cubs begin June with a 12-day, 10-game West Coast trip against the Padres, Angels and Giants.
The Cubs also have to play the Orioles (who own the 3rd-best record in MLB), Cardinals and Phillies in June as well as 6 games against the surprising Pirates.
“How we play over the next month is very important,” Jed Hoyer said at the beginning of the homestand. “It’s not early forever. … We need to bank some wins.”
As Ross said, the issues have infiltrated each aspect of the game over the last month.
The bullpen came into Sunday ranked 26th in MLB in ERA (5.32) this month and Ross is doing everything he can to try to get the unit back on track.
On Saturday, he brought Michael Fulmer — who began the year as the closer before a bout of struggles — into the game in the 5th inning and watched as the veteran right-hander gave up a go-ahead homer.
“Hasn’t worked out,” Ross said. “Trying everything right now with the group of guys.”
The Cubs rotation has been the strength of the team this season but Justin Steele and Drew Smyly both struggled against the Reds over the weekend while the top offseason signing (Jameson Taillon) has yet to get on track.
Even the defense — which was seen as the backbone of the team heading into the season — has slumped, with a series of mistakes on the homestand including three separate miscommunication issues on popups between Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s something that just kinda happens,” Mancini said. “We’re all out there giving our best effort every day. That’s all you can do. We had it early on, things were in sync. You kinda go through ebbs and flows. That’s what’s gonna happen in this long of a season. It’s tough.”
The rotation received a boost with the return of Kyle Hendricks late last week and he is set to start again Tuesday night against the Rays. In the bullpen, Codi Heuer could be back in Chicago soon after missing the last year-and-a-half recovering from Tommy John surgery.
As a team, the Cubs know what they have to do to get back on track.
“We’ve had good preparation throughout the season,” Nico Hoerner said. “There’s been no lack of urgency and trying harder or pressing isn’t necessarily something that’s going to help us, either.
“Just going day by day. I know it’s cliche but that’s really all you can do — keep going.”
Internally, the Cubs have obviously been frustrated but they have done the best they can to stay together and keep moving forward.
“It’s been tough,” Taillon said. “The results definitely haven’t been great. It’s a great group in there. Everyone shows up ready to work. I feel like we flip the page really well. Obviously at this level, it comes down to wins and losses.
“It’s one thing to talk about team chemistry but team chemistry is always better when you’re winning. This would be a really fun group to win with and accomplish great things with. But we need to start piling up some Ws.”