Cubs offense returns to hibernation after brief flurry
Maybe the Cubs offense will one day be able to predict the arrival of spring.
For now, it's stuck in a Groundhog Day scenario. Not only do the Cubs fail to generate many runs day after day, even when they perked up in Wednesday's second inning by scoring three, they quickly returned to hibernation.
The Cubs had scored 1 or 2 runs in their previous five games, so it looked like the offense might be ready to bust out when home runs by Nico Hoerner and Patrick Wisdom put 3 runs on the board in the second.
"I thought we played good. The ball I would say bounced their way a little bit more," Cubs manager David Ross said. "We've got to change our luck. We had plenty of opportunities to push a run across there at the end or make a pitch or make a play."
By the time this 4-3 loss ended, the focus was on a blockbuster missed opportunity in the eighth inning. Wisdom led off with a single, then Nick Madrigal sent a hit through the left side on a hit-and-run, putting runners on first and third with nobody out.
The Cubs were at the top of the batting order.
But Yan Gomes, batting for Alfonso Rivas, lined out to short. As the White Sox switched pitchers from Aaron Bummer to Matt Foster, Seiya Suzuki fouled out to the edge of the visiting dugout, then Ian Happ took a called third strike at the knees.
Another heartbreaker was Willson Contreras' long drive to center in the sixth, which was chased down by Luis Robert as he crashed into the wall and prevented the tying run from scoring. The home team went quietly in the ninth with Sox closer Liam Hendriks needing just 10 pitches to retire the side in order.
For the Cubs (9-15), this was their 11th loss in the last 14 games, and they've scored more than 3 runs in just two of the past 13 contests.
"I think we're just kind of going through the ebbs and flows offensively of a season and pitchers adjusting to us and us adjusting back," Ross said before the game.
The Cubs approach at the plate seems to be OK, but production is an obvious issue. They rank fifth in MLB in on-base percentage, but 18th in runs scored.
They no longer rank among the league leaders in strikeouts, though they did whiff 10 times against Sox starter Lucas Giolito. Ross thinks the team's emphasis on a patient approach at the plate is bound to create some strikeouts.
"I think the product of who we are, we're going to have more looking called strikes," he said. "If you're going to command the zone, you're going to strike out looking more than if you chase. That's just kind of how that works."
Another item on the watchlist was Kyle Hendricks flipping the calendar to May. He had a rough April, with a 5.47 ERA. But last year, he was worse with a 7.54 ERA in April.
He came back with 2.67 in May and 2.97 in June, so hope is not lost.
But Hendricks was not at his best against the White Sox, allowing 4 earned runs and 7 hits in 5⅔ innings. His ERA actually rose a bit, but Hendricks thought he threw well enough to make this a good outing.
The game-winning RBI was a soft pop fly to second by A.J. Pollock, but Madrigal was shifted too far toward short to make the play.
"One hundred percent. That was definitely more on track," he said. "It was nothing like those two bad games in April, it was more like my good ones. Establishing my fastball down and away, had good angle, getting balls on the ground, bad contact. So I just need to keep focusing on those good things and move with that."