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Cody Bellinger’s place in the Cubs’ offensive struggles

3 weeks agoTony Andracki

There are many aspects to point to that might explain the Cubs’ surprising and underwhelming offense this season.

As a whole, the team hasn’t hit with runners in scoring position. The lineup has not slugged the way it’s capable of. Several key players are having career-worst seasons. The catching position has contributed nothing offensively this year.

The list goes on and on.

But what about Cody Bellinger’s role in the offensive dip?

Bellinger was the star of the lineup last year — the one hitter who consistently inspired fear in the opposition.

He came to the Cubs as a former MVP who had fallen on hard times in Los Angeles. After 2023, he hit free agency again and it was a main focus of the fanbase — and frankly, the team — all offseason whether he would return or not.

In some ways, Bellinger’s return to the Cubs lineup was a necessity — a team that finished 3rd in the National League in runs scored last season needed his bat back in order to put up the same type of production.

Bellinger returned and after a good first month, the Cubs offense has cratered.

He has remained solid, if not as spectacular as last season’s heroic effort.

After collecting a pair of hits and a walk during Wednesday night’s 5-3 loss, Bellinger is now slashing .274/.334/.427 (.761 OPS) this season. In a year where offense is notably down across the league, that is a pretty good season.

But it’s not star-level production through the first half of the season. His slugging percentage is down 100 points from his total last year (.525) and his OPS is down nearly 120 points (.881 last season).

“Cody’s season hasn’t been one with a bunch of damage,” Craig Counsell said. “But it’s also been a pretty solid season in a lower offensive environment. And he’s really not that far from a really good season.

“That’s what I’ve talked to him about is that when those stretches come, you don’t get to predict them in a baseball season. You stay in the grind, stay in it, stay in it and then look up at the end of the year and that moment came — but it just didn’t come when you wanted it.

“And that’s what being a good major-league hitter is about to me – it’s staying in that fight and staying in that grind. So when it shows up, you’re ready to do it. And I think Cody’s still right there and that’s fine.”

Counsell’s point is valid — Bellinger hasn’t really gotten hot yet this season and one good stretch would change all of his numbers.

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It was in July last year where Bellinger really took off.

He hit .400 in the month with a 1.122 OPS, 8 homers and 24 RBI and was named NL Player of the Month as he keyed the Cubs offense during a crucial stretch where they put together a run and climbed back into the playoff race.

That effort meant Bellinger was not traded at the deadline and set the stage for his return this season.

While his year hasn’t lived up to his 2023 standards, maybe the calendar flipping will help right the ship.

In 2 games in July, he already has 2 extra-base hits and came a few inches shy of another one Tuesday night when he was robbed on a catch by Nick Castellanos in the right field ivy.

He had only 5 extra-base hits in June — 4 doubles and a homer.

“Obviously well aware [of the lack of slug],” Bellinger said. “But for me and probably most players, if you start chasing the slug, then you know it can go downhill pretty quick.

“So that’s something I always strive to do is continue to stay within myself. Obviously working toward the end goal and just continue sticking with my approach.”

[WATCH: Cody Bellinger reacts to Cubs’ offensive struggles]

When players start trying to hit home runs, that gets their mechanics and approach out of whack.

But for Bellinger, while he hasn’t been mashing extra-base hits like at previous stretches in his career, he still hit .279 with a .333 on-base percentage in June.

His strikeout rate remains in an excellent spot (17.3%) and he’s still performing against left-handed pitchers (.333 AVG).

That includes his clutch 2-out, 2-strike hit against Phillies left-handed reliever Matt Strahm in the 7th inning Wednesday night that tied the game.

While it might be unrealistic to expect a player to put up an OPS north of 1.000 in a given month, Bellinger has shown many times throughout his career that he is capable of such hot stretches.

And the Cubs offense could sure use a star right about now.

If the team is going to turn things around this July and get back into the thick of the playoff race, the offense needs to pick up its performance.

“Disappointing for sure,” Bellinger said of the Cubs offense this year. “We all had high expectations and I think overall we still do. … You got to keep on fighting.”

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