clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Clutch ado about something: Cubs held back by NL-worst hitting with men in scoring position

Facing better pitching? Missing Ben Zobrist? Getting away from early-season focus? Whatever the problems in the clutch, the Cubs’ next winning streak might depend on fixing it.

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago Cubs
Heyward breaks his bat over his leg after striking out in the ninth with two men on and none out last month.
Photo by David Banks/ Getty Images

The Cubs got their seven runs Wednesday to earn a split of their two-game series against the White Sox, but six of those were scored on home runs.

And even in victory manager Joe Maddon emphasized after the game the team’s continuing problems with men in scoring position.

They went 1-for-7 in that situation Wednesday – the only hit Willson Contreras’ first-inning grand slam.

And they rank last in the National League, batting just .242 with runners in scoring position.

“We got the four points on one swing, nice,” Maddon said. “But as you get deeper into this whole thing, and you get into the playoffs, the pitching’s really good. And to just rely on homers to me is a bad method. I really want to get this straightened out where we become more of what we were early in the season.”

It’s the biggest factor that has held the Cubs from an extended hot streak in recent weeks, Maddon said, especially in games such as Tuesday night against the White Sox, when they got another seven impressive innings of starting pitching (this time from Cole Hamels), only to lose 3-1 in the ninth.

“We have to be better in that moment,” Maddon said. “That speaks to the [team getting on] runs, that speaks to the 3-2 win or the 6-5 win. And we’ve got to figure those moments out.”

Through Tuesday the Cubs scored three runs or fewer in five consecutive games and 12 of their previous 22. They went 9-13 in that stretch, losing three games in the standings to Milwaukee.

“I don’t think we’re having bad at-bats,” right fielder Jason Heyward said. “We’ve been playing good teams, facing good pitching.”

The Cubs have faced better pitching in general in recent weeks, including top-five NL bullpens with the Dodgers, Reds and Cardinals. And they rank in the top three in on-base percentage, which means more scoring chances than most.

But two breakdowns stand out:

One, they hit .284 in their first 268 at-bats with men in scoring position – and .201 in 274 at-bats since. That shift corresponds exactly with veteran Ben Zobrist’s personal leave.

Second Contreras is 18-for-51 (.353) – which means the rest of the team is hitting just .230 in that situation for the season.

“We should be better than that, no question,” Maddon said. “There’s still time to be able to [get it fixed], but that also speaks to why our record is as pedestrian as it is.”

Bloop oops

As unusual as it might have seemed to see a broken-bat home run Tuesday night (Eloy Jimenez in the ninth), at least as unusual was Bryant failing to run aggressively on a high pop to shallow center that fell between three Sox fielders in the eighth inning of a tie game.

“I was a little disappointed in myself; I probably should have been on second base,” Bryant said. “That’s my fault. It’s not going to happen again. That’s something I take pride it. I was a little shocked it fell in.”

Instead of the Cubs having at least two shots to drive the run in from second, the inning was over quickly when Anthony Rizzo followed by grounding into a double play.

“We’ll talk about it, but when guys are accountable – which our guys are – it goes a long way,” Maddon said. “When people admit their mistakes it’s pretty easy to move along.”

Kimbrel watch

Newly signed closer Craig Kimbrel is scheduled to make his second appearance for Class AAA Iowa on Friday, keeping him on track to join the Cubs’ bullpen by the end of the 10-game homestand next week.

After a spring-like prep period in Arizona, Kimbrel needed just eight pitches Tuesday in his first game action of the season: a 1-2-3 inning that included a strikeout for Iowa.