No offense, blown save lead to another Cubs loss

One year ago Monday, the Cubs were nine games below .500 when manager David Ross decided to try putting Mike Tauchman at the leadoff spot.

That move helped ignite a 50-28 surge for the Cubs during the middle months of 2023. Coincidentally, the turnaround began when the Cubs were in San Francisco, and essentially ended after they swept the Giants at home in early September.

A rough final three weeks ruined their playoff chances and Ross was replaced by Craig Counsell. But maybe the lesson here is the season is a long way from over.

If there's going to be a turn for the better, though, it sure didn't happen Tuesday in Tampa Bay. The Cubs lost to the Rays 5-2 when reliever Hector Neris was tagged for 4 runs in the bottom of the ninth, including a walk-off 3-run homer by Brandon Lowe.

This was the Cubs' 14th blown save of the season, third-worst in MLB behind the White Sox and Pirates. Starter Jameson Taillon tossed 6 scoreless innings on just 4 hits before giving way to the bullpen.

When will they hit? Nearly every returning Cubs player from last year has seen a drop in OPS.
Player2023 OPS2024 OPSDifference
Suzuki.842.802— 40
Bellinger.881.756— 125
Happ.791.705— 86
Morel.821.702— 119
Hoerner.729.697— 32
Wisdom.789.693— 96
Swanson.744.674— 70
Amaya.688.552— 136
Gomes.723.432— 291

Trouble started right away in the ninth. Neris fell behind Richie Palacios 2-0 and the next pitched was smacked into the right-field corner for a double. Neris then struck out Jose Siri, walked Ben Rortvedt after getting ahead 1-2, before Jose Caballero lofted a single over a leaping Nico Hoerner to tie the score. After another strikeout, Neris threw five straight splitters to Lowe, with the fifth one landing in the right-field seats.

“I think today was a day where he just fell behind,” Counsell told reporters after the game. “Lowe, that was a nice at-bat. He hung on some split-fingers and got one he could fit.”

Another issue in Tuesday's game was the Cubs managing to score just 2 runs on 10 hits. Christopher Morel broke a scoreless tie with a solo home run in the fourth inning. A pinch-hit RBI single by David Bote made it 2-0 in the sixth. But the Cubs left nine on base and went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

The offense has been stuck in a deep freeze ever since this year's 17-9 came to an end back in April. During the past month, the Cubs rank 28th in both batting average and slugging, and 26th in home runs. Oddly enough, the Rays are one of the few teams behind the Cubs in all three categories.

But it's easy to see what the problem is. It's everyone. Among the many Cubs back from last year's team, only Tauchman has improved his OPS. The leadoff magic has faded, though. With the latest loss, the Cubs have gone 6-13 in games Tauchman hits leadoff.

There have been some massive drop-offs across the lineup. Heading into Tuesday's action, Morel, Cody Bellinger and catcher Miguel Amaya had seen their OPS numbers drop more than 100 points since last year. Yan Gomes has dropped 291 points.

If you prefer wRC+ (weighted runs created) off, the top Cubs in the category are Seiya Suzuki, who ranks No. 63 in MLB; Tauchman is 74th and Michael Busch 79th.

In a nutshell, the Cubs haven't had any good offensive players this season, which is why they own a 32-35 record. Starting pitching is the reason they're even close to .500.

“You're not going to win most nights scoring 2 runs, for sure,” Counsell said. “We've got to do more offensively. There's some good signs, a bunch of hits, some balls well-hit for outs. But 2 runs ain't going to cut it.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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