The Chicago Cubs have one of the most proven offenses in Major League Baseball, but this season they’ve been a far cry from their old selves; it derives from a lack of consistent supplementary offense.
The heart and soul of the Cubs offense is Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez — who are all performing up to their career standards. They’ve combined for 80 home runs and 231 RBIs, sport batting averages above .280, and individually sport an OPS in excess of .850.
The rest of the order? Different story.
Sure, Jason Heyward has speed, which is most effective on the basepaths and in the field, but he’s hitting .257. Kyle Schwarber has blasted 31 home runs, but he’s hitting .227; Albert Almora Jr. is hitting .243; Addison Russell is hitting .249; Ian Happ is hitting .230; Daniel Descalso is hitting .181; David Bote and Victor Caratini have come through with some big hits, but been hot and cold at the plate; Ben Zobrist has been hit by the injury bug, and Willson Contreras is on the injured list.
The trade deadline acquisition of outfielder Nicholas Castellanos has been a godsend and a much-needed enhancer for manager Joe Maddon‘s offense. In his 108 at-bats with the Cubs, Castellanos has totaled 18 extra-base hits, is hitting .352, and sporting a 1.071 OPS. But even his heroics haven’t been enough to catapult the Cubs offense back to its old ways.
The Cubs offense went into Thursday 13th in MLB in runs (653) and total bases (2,000), 14th in batting average (.252), and 20th in hits (1,119). They also went into Thursday 16th in OPS (.766), 19th in total bases (628), 22nd in runs (198) and batting average (.248), and 27th in hits (349) since the All-Star break.The @Cubs have fallen behind their midwest rivals, the @Cardinals, in the National League Central standings. Their lack of consistent offensive depth is their primary issue, writes @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet
This is an offense adept at hitting the long ball, but they’re also a well-versed one that grinds out runs. It’s a high-profile unit that has consistently wreaked havoc on pitching staffs for the last half-decade. They’ve done it as a whole, not as select individuals. To have their identity be the factor holding them back is ironic, but also worrisome for their sake because they need that same unit to right the ship to help out their pitching staff.
It’s no secret that the Cubs starting rotation isn’t what it once was. They’re still a reliable and respectable bunch, but their veterans don’t go as deep into games as they once did, are getting hit hard, and running out of gas. It’s not to say that Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels, and Yu Darvish can’t string together some big-time outings over the next two months, but the Cubs can’t bank on them doing as such; they need their offense to pick up the slack.
They won the 2016 World Series on their offense, and it has been the driving force of their four consecutive 92-plus-win seasons; that streak is in peril.
The Cubs (72-61) currently hold the second NL Wild Card seeding, 2.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies and 2.5 games behind the Washington Nationals — who swept the Cubs in Wrigley Field last weekend — for the first seeding. However, there’s merit behind the idea that they could slip out of the playoffs.
While the Phillies pitching staff is troublesome, their offense is keeping them in the thick of the Wild Card race; the Milwaukee Brewers play the Cubs tough and have a potent offense; the New York Mets are streaky, but they have an offense that has come into its own, as well as a stout starting rotation; the San Francisco Giants have the veteran pedigree and experience to stay in the hunt until the cows come home.
Four players hitting at a high level is supposed to be the basis of a formidable lineup. But when it’s a four-man show and everyone else is producing in spurts, your lineup isn’t going to scare anyone; pitchers just have to get through the top of the order.
Now, saying that those not named Bryant, Rizzo, Baez, and Castellanos aren’t providing supplementary offense doesn’t mean they’re less important than the aforementioned sluggers. They’re actually arguably more important because they’re holding back the team’s offense.
Even if just two of Heyward, Schwarber, Almora, and Happ get on-base more, it would do wonders for the Cubs lineup. They’re leaving a lot of runners on base, which is generated from the continued struggle from the bottom of their order to come through with timely hits and walks.
The Cubs have been long classified as one of the deepest and most mature teams in baseball. The talent is still there. The execution is not. Without a more well-rounded offensive attack, the Cubs could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.