Even with the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field for the first time since that historic October, it took some serious self-delusion Tuesday night to imagine any semblance of World Series baseball.
Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood regressed to six-walk form after a promising effort in his most recent start and didn’t get out of the third inning. Trevor Bauer stifled the Cubs’ lineup for six innings.
And unless Manny Machado can pitch and hit five-run homers, not even the Orioles’ superstar shortstop was going to help the Cubs on a night they opened a five-game homestand with a 10-1 loss.
If anything, this outing was part of a pattern that, 45 games into the season, makes evaluating trading-deadline needs a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey exercise.
“I feel like we’re underperforming a little bit,” third baseman Kris Bryant said even before the game. “We’re pretty average right now.”
But that average is built on significant highs and significant lows.
Consider that the Cubs have played three last-place teams this month, going 8-2 and averaging 8.1 runs per game. Against their four other opponents this month: 1-8 and 2.7 runs per game.
They lead the majors with nine games of 10 or more runs, and have scored eight or more in 15. And two or fewer in 14.
They’re 7-1 against the Brewers. They’re 18-19 against everyone else.
“You think of the 2016 team, and you’re spoiled when you think of that kind of caliber we played all year,” center fielder Albert Almora Jr. said of the Cubs’ 103-win, wire-to-wire run to the division title. “But I like where we’re at, and I think we’re playing at a really high level right now with the intensity. We’ll see. It’s still early.”
It may be early, but Chatwood is nine starts into his first season as a Cub with a troubling inability to throw strikes
Six days after walking just two in a 5„-inning start in Atlanta, Chatwood (3-4) walked six, including three during a four-run second inning he failed to complete. His enormous walk rate finally bit him when he gave up a three-run homer to Jose Ramirez.
“It was tough,” manager Joe Maddon said. “His stuff is so good. We just couldn’t get a strike. . . . We’ve got to harness this somehow. We’ve got to figure it out.”
It was his sixth start with at least five walks. He leads the majors with 40 walks, only one fewer than his strikeout total.
“I was fighting myself,” said Chatwood, who threw only 30 of 74 pitches for strikes.
So, Machado or a pitcher at the deadline?
The Cubs had 10 hits in this game and put runners in scoring position in every inning but the ninth, when pinch hitter Ian Happ led off with a homer.
But continuing another pattern, they went 0-for-10 with men in scoring position, stranding 10 at second or third.
“We’ve got a long ways to go,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who said he doesn’t think the three other front runners in the division are going away anytime soon. “With the attitudes and personalities [on the team], we’re built for the long haul.”
The Cubs have one more game in this series Wednesday before playing the Giants for three games over the weekend, then going on the road against two surprise early contenders in Pittsburgh and New York.
Could that give more of an indication of what kind of team the Cubs have for the pennant race this year? Or at least help define some needs for the trade deadline?
Either way, Bryant sounds confident.
“We look at our track record here, with three consecutive NLCS appearances,” Bryant said. “And, sure, that gets old, and maybe it can be seen as like an excuse.
“But I think when you look at the talent in here and what we’ve been able to do, it would be kind of foolish to doubt us.”