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How Cubs leadership is processing offensive struggles

4 weeks agoTony Andracki

MILWAUKEE — Jed Hoyer snapped his fingers several times throughout his media scrum with Chicago reporters Tuesday afternoon.

He wishes it was that easy to fix his team’s slumping offense.

But Hoyer was using it to demonstrate that there is no immediate fix. In Major League Baseball, you can’t just snap your fingers and instantly cure problems.

There is no big, red Staples “Easy” button.

“I don’t know what more to make of it,” Hoyer said. “That is the reality — no one’s hitting. … The hard part is there’s no team meeting to snap your fingers and do it.

“You have to come out of these things. We don’t know when but I’m very confident we’ll come out of this and we’ll start scoring runs and I do think there’s gonna be a cumulative exhale.”

So how do the Cubs actually get out of their recent offensive funk?

For starters, they’re hoping they might already have had that exhale moment.

The 5-run outburst in the 10th inning Tuesday night could be a harbinger of positive things to come for this offense.

There is no guarantee of that, of course. But for one night and one inning, the Cubs were able to let out a collective breath.

“It’s been tough,” Cody Bellinger said. “It’s not a lack of effort. It’s not a lack of trying. It’s not a lack of gameplanning. Sometimes, it kind of goes that way.

“We do everything we can to try to get out of it. And that 10th inning today was really good to see some hits fall and get a rally going.”

Over the two weeks leading up to Tuesday night’s win, the Cubs were averaging 2.5 runs per game.

For the first month of the season, the Cubs were a Top 5 offense in baseball.

Over the last month, the Cubs have been the worst offense in baseball.

From April 27 through May 27, the Cubs ranked dead last in OPS with a .608 mark — nearly 30 points below the next closest team (the White Sox at .635).

The Cubs rank last in batting average (.204) and slugging percentage (.321) and 27th in on-base percentage (.287) over the same period. They’ve also scored the fewest runs and only the Rays and Diamondbacks have hit fewer than the Cubs’ 22 homers in that span.

“We came out of the gates hot and against good competition and hit really well,” Hoyer said. “I think our situational stats were probably higher than they should have been in terms of guys in scoring position and things like that.

“May has been the opposite. No one’s been hot in May. In April, we had some guys hot — [Michael] Busch probably being the main one. No one’s really been hot in May. And I think when you have no one in the lineup that is carrying the load, that really hurts.

“Situationally, we’re the worst team in baseball by any metric with guys in scoring position this month. And that’s how you score runs. We haven’t had a lot of home runs and we haven’t hit with guys in scoring position and that leads to no run-scoring.”

Those three paragraphs essentially sum up the peaks and valleys of the Cubs offense so far in the 2024 season.

But the way out isn’t panicking.

Which is exactly where Craig Counsell comes in. The Cubs selected him as their manager because they felt he’s one of the best in the game — and a big part of that is an even-keeled nature that doesn’t ride the waves of a baseball season.

So while his offense is struggling to put up runs, Counsell is the same guy — and running out the same lineup on a daily basis. There are no benchings, no random shakeups where a middle-of-the-order hitter starts leading off just to try to find anything that can lead to a spark.

“These are our guys,” Craig Counsell said before Tuesday’s game. “They’re gonna hit eventually and while you go through it, it doesn’t feel good.”

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In May, the Cubs have had 16 different players take an at-bat. Nine of those 16 players have a batting average below .200 and 12 of the 16 have an OPS below .700.

Nico Hoerner leads the team with an .813 OPS this month. For perspective, the Yankees as a team have an OPS of .815 in May.

From Hoyer’s perspective, the Cubs don’t feel like the best course of action is to make a roster move and bring up a player from Triple-A.

Brennen Davis has been hot in Iowa, though he just missed a couple games last week due to injury. Pete Crow-Armstrong has been on fire since he was optioned back down to the minors, but the Cubs sent him down because he wasn’t performing consistently on offense in the majors nor was he seeing regular at-bats.

The Cubs believe the best path forward is to rely on all of the players in their lineup that have track records of offensive performance.

Hoyer, Counsell and the entire Cubs leadership team have to strike the balance between patience and a sense of urgency to try to keep the team from a freefall in the standings.

“You try to have a lot of conversations with a lot of people around here that have been around the game for a long time and have that discussion,” Hoyer said. “What is going to be perceived as panic? What may be perceived to the outside as action may be perceived internally in a negative way.

“And so I think trying to figure that out. But yes, you want to be patient. You want to believe that track records will win out but at the same time, there has to be a level of urgency as well. And that’s the fine balance.”

The Cubs are also hanging their hats on just how rare it is that the entire lineup is struggling at the same time — and for an extended period of time.

Typically, there are at least a couple of hitters hot at a time while a couple others are in the midst of slumps and the rest of the lineup is somewhere in the middle.

“I do think that’s ultimately the way we’re going to get back on track,” Hoyer said. “I was looking at the last 30 days and we have no players really among the top half of performers. No one has been hot. Ultimately, that’s a very unusual thing.”

When the Cubs are struggling to score, it puts pressure on every other aspect of the team — starting pitching, bullpen, defense. Mistakes like Nick Madrigal’s error on Monday evening are magnified because the Cubs went the first 8 innings without scoring a run.

Because the Cubs rotation has been lights out, the team has been in games on a daily basis even amid the lineup-wide slump. But that also means it’s harder for the Cubs to push across runs because they’re seeing all the best relievers on the other teams.

“Putting pressure on starting pitchers, scoring some runs against them and getting to the lesser part of teams’ bullpens — all those things add up,” Hoyer said. “And we haven’t been putting pressure on opposing teams.

“As a result, we’ve seen good starters, they’ve pitched a long time in the games and we’ve seen the best bullpens. And that makes run-scoring that much harder. So some of these things are a vicious cycle and we need to break that cycle and start scoring runs.”

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