MILWAUKEE — We hate to do it, but we’re going to have to use the S-word here.
That’s right: Schwarber.
How else to begin a Cubs-Brewers story than by diverting our attention to Nationals Park in Washington? That’s where Kyle Schwarber — remember him? — led off for the home team in the first inning Monday and bombed his 14th home run into the third deck in right field.
Then he came up in the fifth and whaled on another one, his 15th. No, not of the season. It was his 15th in June alone, the most by any Nationals player in any month.
Think the left fielder’s former team might have benefitted from that kind of production? Instead, the Cubs lugged a completely embarrassing June batting average of .186 into a 14-4 loss that opened a three-game series against the National League Central-leading Brewers. According to ESPN, that would rank as the fourth-worst average by any team in any month since about the dawn of time.
The 2003 Tigers hit .184 in April. The 1972 Rangers hit .183 in September. The 2014 Padres outdid ’em all by hitting .171 in June. Indeed, we are using all forms of the word ‘‘hit’’ very loosely.
Coming off an offensively frustrating long weekend at Dodger Stadium and facing a Brewers team that’s scary because of its three-headed monster of starting pitchers — Freddy Peralta, Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes — and its best-in-baseball record of 25-10 since May 22, the Cubs could use anyone with a bat and a pulse.
Alas, the Schwarber ship obviously has sailed. And Anthony Rizzo and Willson Contreras weren’t in the lineup Monday. Rizzo left the game Sunday in Los Angeles with tightness in his lower back, an issue that has caused him to miss handfuls of games before. Contreras, the biggest workhorse catcher in baseball this season, was hit in the left hand by a 98 mph pitch from the Dodgers’ Joe Kelly during the weekend and needed a day to recharge.
According to manager David Ross, however, the crux of the Cubs’ offensive trouble isn’t whatever Rizzo, Contreras, Kris Bryant and Javy Baez — the team’s core four stars — aren’t doing. It’s that the overall quality of at-bats up and down the lineup is lagging.
The Cubs struck out so often in Los Angeles — at least 14 times in three consecutive games, a first for the franchise since 1901 — that they had to try to work counts Monday no matter who was in the lineup. And they did to a somewhat encouraging extent, walking eight times, before the game got away from the bullpen in the Brewers’ 10-run eighth inning.
Joc Pederson led off the first with a walk against Peralta, setting the table for a two-run home run by Ian Happ. Pederson and Happ walked in the second after a single by starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, though the Cubs failed to score. In the seventh, catcher Jose Lobaton got on with a walk before pinch hitter Patrick Wisdom tied the score with a homer.
Relievers Ryan Tepera and Trevor Megill were lit up mercilessly for 10 runs in the eighth as the Brewers turned an exciting game into a charade, winning their sixth in a row, running their season mark against the Cubs to 7-3 and leaving the Cubs four games back in the division.
“I thought we played a phenomenal baseball game right there until that bottom of the eighth,” Ross said. “Guys battled. The character of this group continues to shine through in not giving up.”
All the swing-and-miss lately has been painful to watch. Some of it can be attributed to the ongoing absences of infielders Nico Hoerner and Matt Duffy, who clearly are two of the best on the team at seeing pitches, working counts, making contact and keeping pitchers out of dominant rhythms.
Before Hoerner, Duffy and fellow infielder David Bote all went on the injured list in late May, the offense functioned much more as intended.
“There were a lot of singles that were hit,” Ross said, “where right now we’re a little bit more swing-and-miss, a little bit more solo homers. . . . We’re finding ways to stay in games, but we do need to roll out a two-out knock with a man on second every once in a while.”