As the average pitch velocity in the major leagues creeps up, the Cubs’ offense still is looking for ways to keep up with the growing number of power arms they’re facing.
En route to a 6-0 loss, they mustered just two hits against Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff, who topped out at 99 mph Sunday at Wrigley Field.
“He’s a bulldog up there, and it’s fun facing him because you know he’s coming at you,” Anthony Rizzo said. “We just didn’t have it today.”
Woodruff attacked mostly with his four-seam fastball and sinker, occasionally working in his changeup, which Rizzo said looked the best he has seen. Overall, the different movement between Woodruff’s two fastballs proved too much for the Cubs’ lineup.
“Commanding two fastballs for him is a big deal,” Nico Hoerner said. “A lot of guys with that much velocity, they don’t have command of two fastballs, and it makes the at-bat challenging, for sure. Pretty relentless with attacking the zone. He’s in the zone a really high percentage with all of his pitches.”
The Cubs’ best scoring opportunity came in the fourth inning when Ian Happ led off with a walk and David Bote singled, but Woodruff got out of the inning by striking out Rizzo and getting a double play when Kris Bryant struck out and Happ was caught trying to steal third base.
As a group, the Cubs had a .216 batting average going into Sunday’s game, which is in the bottom third of the league. There doesn’t look to be much chance for improvement, either. Their .224 expected batting average (xBA), which is calculated based on things like average exit velocity and launch angle, is the lowest in baseball.
The lineup did make some good contact against Woodruff, but to no avail. They didn’t produce a baserunner through the first three innings, despite Javy Baez, Jason Heyward, and Hoerner all putting balls in play with exit velocities over 100 mph that had expected batting averages of .890, .580, and .540, respectively.
A game-time temperature of 44 degrees and the wind coming in from center field didn’t help things either. For instance, Baez’s shot to center in the second inning had all the makings of a home run, but instead it landed in Jackie Bradley Jr.’s glove.
“You’ve got a cold day, wind blowing in, and against a guy who is just tough to scratch across a couple hits,” Ross said. “Hit a couple balls hard right at guys early on. Found some ways to get runners on, just couldn’t really get the line moving too much. That’s kind of how the story goes sometimes when you’re facing an ace on the other side.”
Woodruff faced the Cubs for the third time and has 22 strikeouts and five hits in 19 innings against them.
Starter Jake Arrieta did his best to keep the Cubs in the game, limiting the Brewers to one run in six innings. He struck out eight Brewers and allowed only two hits and three walks and worked out of jams in the first and sixth innings.
“Woodruff is extremely tough,” Arrieta said. “So giving up one in the first and being able to squeeze my way out of it, I understood that that was about as much as I could give up, if we wanted a chance to win the ballgame.
‘‘Sometimes, you’ve got to bear down and make big pitches.”
The score held at 1-0 through eight innings, but any chance of a late-inning Cubs comeback was lost in the top of the ninth when reliever Jason Adam gave up three runs without recording an out. Dillon Maples took over and allowed two of the inherited runners to score for a five-run inning for the Brewers.