Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks dubbed the 4-3 loss Wednesday “a baseball day” after White Sox center fielder Luis Robert robbed catcher Willson Contreras of a game-tying double.
“I thought we played pretty well,” he said. “We made some pretty good plays out there, put together great at-bats, had some chances there late and just hit balls right at guys. Just one of those things.”
This weekend is the one-month mark of the season, and the Cubs enter their three-game series against the Dodgers with a 9-15 record, in fourth place in the National League Central behind the rebuilding Pirates.
The Cubs have just three wins in their last 14 games. So how much of that rut is baseball’s fickle nature, and how much calls for an adjustment?
For the starting pitchers, the answer is pretty plain. The first time through the rotation, each starter threw at least five innings and allowed one run or fewer. But then Hendricks, Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman started battling rhythm issues.
Steele, finding himself rushing after a pair of strong starts to begin the season, hasn’t pitched more than three innings in each of his last three outings. But sloppy play behind him was a factor in the Cubs’ 9-1 loss at Milwaukee on Saturday, and he saw improvement in his own form.
Stroman, feeling out of sync early on, has made steady progress. That culminated in seven scoreless innings Sunday in a 2-0 win and the Cubs’ only victory in the three-game series against the division leaders.
Hendricks is still searching for consistency. He looks like vintage Hendricks one day but struggles with the same issues that plagued him in 2021 the next.
“That was definitely more on track,” Hendricks said of his last start, despite allowing four runs in 5⅔ innings Wednesday against the Sox. “It wasn’t like those two bad games I had in April. It was more along the lines of the good ones I had, establishing my fastball down and away, had good angle, getting balls on the ground, bad contact. So I need to just keep focussing on those good things and move with that.”
So three of the Cubs’ starters are making, or have made, adjustments. And help is on the way. Left-hander Wade Miley (left elbow inflammation) will make a rehab appearance with Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.
So what about the offense?
Through the first three series of the season, the Cubs were averaging 9.44 hits per game. And who could forget their 21-0 victory against the Pirates a couple of weeks ago. But the Cubs have scored multiple runs in just three of their last eight games.
Some of that has to do with the quality of pitching they have faced in recent weeks, including the No. 2 rotation in the major leagues (Brewers, 3.13 ERA), and the Braves’ one-two punch of Max Fried and Charlie Morton. But the Cubs’ strong start included some tough matchups, too, including the Brewers’ Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.
The Cubs also have been striking out more recently, reaching double digits in six of their last seven games. And for a team with a contact-oriented profile, especially compared to years past, strikeouts have a greater impact.
A few key Cubs hitters are going through lulls, including Frank Schwindel (.205 batting average) and Seiya Suzuki (3-for-32 in his last eight games). That will happen throughout the season as different hitters cycle through the regular ups and downs.
“These guys are working hard. I don’t think anybody needs to get back to anything. I think we just need some results,” manager David Ross said after the loss Wednesday. “The top [of the batting order] wasn’t our strong suit tonight. The guys at the bottom kind of carried us.”
Nico Hoerner, batting sixth, and Patrick Wisdom, batting eighth, both homered to drive in all three of the Cubs’ runs. Nine-hole hitter Nick Madrigal went 2-for-3. His evaluation might sound familiar.
“I really don’t think we’re far off or need to change game plans or anything,” Madrigal said of the offense. “I just think it’s part of baseball.”
Dodgers at Cubs
Friday: Tyler Anderson (2-0, 2.55 ERA) vs. TBD, 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Saturday: Clayton Kershaw (3-0, 2.35) vs. Justin Steele (1-3, 5.50), 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM.
Sunday: Walker Buehler (3-1, 2.12) vs. Marcus Stroman (1-3, 5.13), 6:08 p.m., ESPN, 670-AM, 1000-AM.