Cubs offense depends heavily on Suzuki's success
The Cubs have played through some miserable weather this spring. But they finally got to stay dry when Friday's game against Los Angeles was rained out.
They'll play a doubleheader against the Dodgers on Saturday, at 12:05 and 6:40 p.m. at Wrigley Field. The Cubs have listed Drew Smyly and Daniel Norris as the scheduled starting pitchers.
After a decent start to the season, the Cubs can now be described as both slumping and rebuilding. They've dropped 11 of their last 14 games, while scoring a total of 9 runs in the last six contests.
It's fair to blame the starting pitching, which ranks 27th in MLB with a 5.16 ERA. But another trait worth looking at is the front office's decision to stress quality at-bats and patience at the plate.
Straying from the "home run or strikeout" strategy that is popular today's MLB sounds good in theory, but it's not working for the Cubs. They rank fifth in the majors in on-base percentage at .322, but are tied for 22nd in home runs.
Slug still breeds success. Thirteen of the bottom 14 teams in home runs have losing records, with St. Louis the lone outlier. Eight of the top 10 teams in home runs have winning records.
There's another telltale stat that helps explain the Cubs' offensive slump. They are 9-5 this season in games where Seiya Suzuki collects a hit and a perfect 0-10 when he goes hitless.
Suzuki was signed by the Cubs to be a shining example of the patient approach. He had a great start, hitting .429 with 12 hits in the first 10 games.
He has just 1 hit in his last 23 at-bats, which begs the question of whether the Cubs offensive approach can work without him.
Suzuki was asked this week if teams are pitching him any differently since his fast start and he said through a translator that he doesn't think there has been much of a change. But it's standard procedure for the league to scout and adjust when a player has a successful debut.
"I haven't seen anything that stood out to me," manager David Ross said. "They're being a little more aggressive. For the most part, I think it's just a timing issue. He's played with some leg kicks and some non-strides and some things there to try to get on time a little more consistently."
The Cubs weren't all about slug during the successful years. They ranked 22nd in home runs in 2018 and 17th in 2020, making the playoffs both seasons.
So there's obviously more to the slump than not hitting enough home runs. In 2014, they ranked fifth in homers and lost 89 games. But it may also be frustrating for fans to see ex-Cubs Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber among the major league home run leaders this season.
"The more we can get pitchers on the plate, we're going to benefit from that," Ross said. "Now we have to adjust when they're adjusting.
"I think we were really good at hitting the fastball early on, jumping in the count. We got spun a lot more early in the count, slowed us down a lot more. That can put you in-between at times."
Smyly missed a scheduled start Tuesday when he went on the bereavement list. It appears the Cubs might be skipping Justin Steele's turn in the rotation, since he was expected to start Saturday.
Speaking of slug, the Cubs made a minor-league move of note Friday, promoting outfielder Nelson Velazquez to Triple A Iowa. He hit .288 with 9 home runs in 22 games at Double A Tennessee.