Like every other hitter in the Cubs’ struggling lineup, newcomer Joc Pederson tells himself it’s early, there’s no reason to panic — just keep grinding and eventually his stroke will come.
But in his eighth season in the big leagues, that’s still easier said than done.
“I think everyone feels a lot of pressure,” Pederson said after the Cubs were held to three hits in a 4-2 loss in 10 innings to the Brewers on Wednesday before 10,343 fans at Wrigley Field. “Speaking for myself, it’s a lot. You come to a new place, a lot of fans. I just had a really good spring. I had a high expectation for myself, and I’m assuming they do, as well. And you’re not getting the job done in situations where you can, and it just kind of adds up.”
Pederson’s predicament exemplifies the lineup-wide slump that marked the opening homestand of the 2021 season. He was the Cubs’ hottest hitter in spring training — a .387 batting average (17-for-45) with eight home runs and 19 RBI. But everything changed once the bell rang.
In previous years, Pederson got his first hit of the season early — the second at-bat as a rookie in 2014, then the third, third, second, seventh, first and second at-bats of the season the next six years with the Dodgers. With the pressure of impressing new teammates and new fans, he was 0-for-15 after a strikeout in the first inning and a flyout to the edge of the warning track in center against dominant Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff.
Pederson felt he was getting close with the deep flyout, and sure enough he was right. In his next at-bat in the eighth inning, Pederson crushed a 96 mph fastball from reliever Devin Williams for a no-doubt-about-it home run to right field for a 1-1 tie.
No matter how sure he was that he would eventually find his groove, he admitted the homer — just the safe hit — was “a big relief.”
“It was huge,” Pederson said. “It felt good.”
The Cubs’ lineup as a whole could use the same sense of relief. While their early slump is certainly a small sample size, it’s also historically poor. After becoming the first team in modern baseball history to get three-hit, two-hit and one-hit in their first five games, they were no-hit for six innings by Woodruff on only 56 pitches.
Ian Happ’s single to right field past diving second baseman Daniel Robertson to lead off the seventh inning broke up the no-hitter. Pederson’s homer matched Lorenzo Cain’s homer off Alec Mills in the top of the eighth.
After Cain’s three-run homer off Brandon Workman (0-1) in the 10th, the Cubs rallied for a chance to steal it. Jason Heyward hit an RBI single, and walks to pinch hitters Willson Contreras and Jake Marisnick loaded the bases with two outs before Happ flied out to left to end it.
That left the Cubs 3-3 but with a lineup in need of an infusion. The Cubs’ .124 team batting average is the second-lowest through six games in modern big-league history, according to research via baseball-reference.com. Their leading hitters are batting .200 — Kris Bryant (4-for-20) and Eric Sogard (2-for-10).
But Pederson’s big hit provided some hope.
“Everybody’s just trying to get comfortable,” Pederson said. “Hitting’s contagious. We all can be a little bit better. But it’s still super-early. We have some really talented [hitters], and when we get clicking, it’s going to be fun to be a part of, and it’s coming soon. So just enjoy the show.”