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Cubs Extra: Cubs have struggled with clutch or choke question throughout competitive run

Playoff core hasn’t been better than 10th in NL in RISP hitting since it was put together.

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs
Kyle Schwarber flips his bat after striking out with the bases loaded against the Cardinals in April. He’s just 5-for-40 (.125) with 16 strikeouts with men in scoring position this season.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Forget the smoothest-running modern lineup technology.

The diagnostics still dogging the Cubs’ lineup four years later is straight out of a ’52 Ford pickup.

Clutch or choke?

“I don’t think we have un-clutch players at all,” team president Theo Epstein said. “Every player in baseball has to improve with runners in scoring position.”

Yet for all their success, it’s hard to ignore perhaps the Cubs’ Achilles heel for as long as this core has been together since 2015-16.

It hasn’t prevented them from earning four consecutive playoff appearances and a World Series championship (thanks in large part to pitching).

As counterintuitive as it seems, the Cubs have been among the worst teams in the National League at hitting with runners in scoring position since they turned a competitive corner in 2015: ranking 14th (.236), 10th (.252), 11th (.253) and 10th (.247) the last four years with RISP.

That entire stretch has included their current 1-through-4 hitters: Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez.

Addison Russell also was on that 2015 team, and by 2016, add No. 5 hitter Willson Contreras and Albert Almora and Jason Heyward.

If anything, it has gotten worse this year — especially the last 29 games heading into the weekend St. Louis series, at .195. That dropped them to .246 for the season (13th in the NL).

“Our guys continue to work at it and grind away,” Epstein said.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Newly signed Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel is the only pitcher in major-league history with at least two career saves to have more saves (333) than hits allowed (285). Shout out to Chicago-based stats guru Christopher Kamka for this one.
  • The Cubs have used the designated hitter in just eight games this year (31 at-bats) but have nearly as many home runs from the DH spot (three) as the AL’s Detroit Tigers have through 51 games (four).

HIDDEN FIGURES

0 – Victories for Cubs starter Yu Darvish in 10 home starts since signing with the Cubs before last season, after failing to get through the sixth with a 3-0 lead Wednesday. He’s 0-4 with a 5.75 ERA at home (3-2, 4.1, in 11 road games).

.993 – Career OPS in 628 career games for newly signed Cubs outfielder Carlos Gonzalez at Coors Field – where he returns Monday for the first time since leaving the Rockies as a free agent after last season (.338 OBP, .605 slugging).

2 – Sons of former majors leaguers drafted by the Cubs Wednesday: University of Texas third baseman Ryan Reynolds, son of former pitcher Shane Reynolds (14th round), and Clemson infielder Grayson Byrd, son of former pitcher Paul Byrd (24th).

46 – Kimbrel’s uniform number throughout a nine-year career as a seven-time All-Star closer – also the uniform number of Pedro Strop, the longest-tenured pitcher on the Cubs’ staff. Kimbrel switched to No. 24 upon joining the team this week.

THAT’S WHAT HE SAID

“It’s a testament to these guys in this clubhouse to get us to this juncture … and maybe raise some awareness that we are a lot better than whatever that computer program said we were going to be.” —Cubs ace Jon Lester after the Kimbrel signing, referring to the annual PECOTA projections by Baseball Prospectus that predicted the Cubs would finish in last place in the NL Central.

“I’m a fan of the RBI. Always have been. I don’t quite understand the logic behind [that] it’s not a desirable quality to have. It is. Of course it is. And of course some guys are much better at it than others.” —Cubs manager Joe Maddon.

“Sick!” — David Bote, describing his first reaction to learning – in Wednesday’s second inning – that the Cubs had signed Kimbrel.