Tale of two months: Cubs' April-May splits are good indication of what the team is missing
As the calendar flips from May to June, maybe it's time for the Cubs to make another dramatic shift in success rate.
So far this season has been a tale of two months, and the difference between the two is a good indication of what the team is missing.
During April, the Cubs ranked second in batting average, slugging and OPS; sixth in runs scored and seventh in home runs. Truly a strong offensive performance.
In May, they were 25th in batting average, 23rd in slugging, 24th in OPS, 25th in runs scored and 19th in home runs. Truly a dismal offensive performance.
Pitching took a similar downturn, going from 10th in ERA in April to 24th in May. That's mostly due to the bullpen, but the starters have taken some lumps at times.
The won-loss record works better if you back up three days to April 27. On that day, the Cubs were 14-10, and have gone 10-21 since.
"Our game is momentum-based," manager David Ross said Wednesday. "I followed the Reds for a second after they left here and they're playing really good baseball."
That's true, but it was still an odd homestand for the Cubs. They took two of three from the Mets and Rays, but were swept by the Reds, which had the worst record of those three teams.
"It's just part of this dang game that can be frustrating sometimes," Ross said.
Anyway, back to the April-May splits, they show how much the Cubs need strong run producers in the middle of the lineup.
In April, Patrick Wisdom played like an MVP candidate and Cody Bellinger seemed ready to return to his MVP form.
No one expected those guys to keep up that pace all season, but to point out the obvious, the Cubs need a couple players who can keep that up all season.
The old baseball adage of how a powerful bat makes the rest of the order better seems to be reinforced here. The only Cubs player who had a significant rise in OPS from April to May was Seiya Suzuki, who missed all of training camp with an oblique strain.
Outside of his 2 home run game against the Reds, Wisdom struggled in May, with a .162 batting average. Bellinger also faded and will likely be on the injured list for another week or two due to a bone bruise in his left knee.
"It's getting hits in the big spots," Trey Mancini said. "That's something that's eluded us for a while. It's something we did well early in the year and not so well recently. That's magnified in these close games a lot."
Obviously, there's no easy answer to filling the middle-lineup gap. Can Christopher Morel and Matt Mervis eventually become major run producers? Is there someone in the minors who could fill that role down the road, like maybe Owen Caissie or Alexander Canario?
Do the Cubs need to trade some of their prospects to try to land a big bat? Would they break the bank in an attempt to sign free-agent Shohei Ohtani this winter? Otherwise, there won't be many offensive weapons on the market.
The rotation is in decent shape with Ben Brown likely to make his major-league debut soon, then ideally the two most recent first-round picks, Jordan Wicks and Cade Horton, to follow.
Jed Hoyer admitted he should have done more to help the bullpen last winter.
There was some promise in the pen this week with Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter Jr. and the improving Julian Merryweather. But trying to use all three of those guys two days in a row backfired Wednesday.
The Cubs could be in decent shape if Codi Heuer can hit his stride soon coming off Tommy John surgery and Keegan Thompson can figure out what caused his sudden downturn.
A 10-game West Coast trip, which starts Friday in San Diego, could accelerate a downward spiral if things don't go well.
"We have a good team," Ian Happ said. "Good team with a lot of good players who have been around and experienced a lot. So I'm not worried about the group. We're only two months in. We have an opportunity to go on a little bit of a run, have a really good June and we'll see where we're at at the break."
Two very different monthsCubs OPS by month
Player April May
Velazquez 1.335 N/A
Bellinger 1.001 .578
Wisdom . 990 .637
Gomes. 904 .560
Happ .840 .771
Hoerner .814 .625
Swanson .730 .784
Suzuki .706 .977
Mancini .673 .662
Barnhart .442 .450
Morel N/A 1.024
Tauchman N/A .862
Mervis N/A .565