Everyone okay? Did you get a chance to breathe, punch a wall, or drown your sorrows in a fine beverage? Good deal, it was probably time for some of that anyway; we all need to blow off a little steam every now and then. But here’s the thing: the fact that the Cubs got no hit doesn’t matter.
It’s a great accomplishment for Cole Hamels, he was dominant and showed why Ruben Amaro is asking for so much for him in trade (once again, and I’m not really sure why he had to, but I digress). Phillies fans should be thrilled, baseball fans in general should be as well. In no way do I want to take anything away from Hamels brilliant performance, he deserves all the accolades for doing something we hadn’t seen for nearly 50 years.
But this is a Cubs site, and Cubs fans shouldn’t be panicking, not because the team got no hit. Would it have mattered if David Ross’ liner to the wall had dropped? Or if a pop-up or two had found the outfield grass? The only way being no-hit matters to the Cubs is if they let it. It’s why the team brought in guys like Ross and why Joe Maddon has such a great reputation. Times like these are when veterans and the coaching staff must ensure that the younger players don’t let bad feelings linger and creep into their minds while they’re trying to perform on the field.
As Maddon on Opening Night:
“How do you prevent that?” manager Joe Maddon asked, referring to losing affecting a player’s mindset. “It’s just an everyday thing, man. I’m big on winning hard for 30 minutes, I’m big on losing hard for 30 minutes, and then moving on to the next day. The moment you start permitting a negative day or experience to carry over, you’re going to get yourself in bad spots. I’m relying on the talent of our guys, on the attitude of our guys and of course me and the coaching staff to try and prevent that.”
Which Ross only reiterated when I chatted with him later that week:
“That’s the job of me, the veteran guys, and Joe and the coaching staff,” Ross said of keeping things positive. “There’s nobody in here who’s going to panic over a loss. Joe’s already said it a billion times, there’s going to be some times in the season where we’re gonna stink for a while. We’re gonna lose plenty of games in a row. And it’s how your respond to losing, how you lift each other up and always have each other’s back. That’s when a nine-game losing streak turns into six. Or it could turn into 12. It’s important for us, as the veteran players, to just keep reiterating that all we need is to go out there and play hard on a nightly basis.”
It’s very possible that no amount of cajoling from the vets and coaches can help a mentally fried rookie, but from my experience in this clubhouse, I do believe that it won’t be mental fatigue that keeps this offense from finding it’s groove.
With all that said, no-hitters and any psychological damage they may cause is secondary. Here’s what Cubs fans should be concerned about:
Kris Bryant in his last 35 games: .191/.291/.397
Anthony Rizzo in his last 28 games: .222/.350/.293
Jorge Soler in his last 17 games since returning from the DL: .239/.292.343
While there are some nice underlying numbers here—primarily that Rizzo is still providing value by getting on base, Bryant has actually been hitting for solid power (.206 ISO in that span), and Soler’s exit velocity of 93.3 mph is eighth in baseball with players with at least 100 plate appearances of data—but Bryant, Rizzo, and Soler need to produce at a higher level for this Cubs offense to be a consistent force. When Kyle Schwarber is in the lineup and batting second, the heart of the order is getting numerous opportunities to put the Cubs on the board, and currently they’re just not delivering. If we take a look at a very small sample, we see that the guys ahead of them have been performing well recently:
Addison Russell has a .385 OBP in his last 11 games.
Dexter Fowler has a .477 OBP in his last nine games.
Schwarber has only started four games since returning to the big-league club, each one in the two-hole, and needless to say, he’s been brilliant in that time with a .600 OBP. (And so much more, but I’m just focusing on his ability to get on base for Bryant, Rizzo, and Soler.)
The Cubs are in the midst of 20 straight against teams under .500; it’s certainly not a good thing that they’ve started that stretch 5-7 and lost series to the White Sox and cellar-dwelling Phillies. But it also doesn’t mean they can’t rebound from this, they’ve just made things a bit harder for themselves. They need to take advantage of Fowler and Russell getting on base ahead of their most productive bats. They need to capitalize on the offense Schwarber is currently providing—it’s not going to last at this pace for much longer, if at all—which they barely have, as they’re 1-3 when he’s started.
Yes, all of these things are small samples, but the point is, the Cubs offense has failed to take advantage of their table-setters doing exactly what’s expected of them. We can feel good about Fowler continuing the uptrend due to how out of whack his first half was with his previous six seasons, but it’s hard to say what the kids will do. Rookies are notoriously fickle with their production, so just assuming that they’ll get hot and rectify the offense’s issues is a dangerous thought process. But that’s what the Cubs are basically relying on at the moment.
Of course, Rizzo needs to get back on track, which is probably the safest assumption we can make with this offense right now. Many believe that off all the the kids in this group, Bryant is the one who can adjust quickest when struggling. Currently pitchers are exploiting the low strike when attacking Bryant—more on that later in the week—and it’s something he’s going to have to figure out how to attack. Soler is just going to have to start hitting something other than the hard stuff:
Of course, that’s easier said than done. If he can just keep hitting the fastballs he’s seeing as hard as he is, perhaps that’ll be enough in the short term.
But the bottom line is that getting no hit is no worse than failing to pile on the runs against Jerome Williams, losing a series to the White Sox, or splitting a four-game set with the Reds. Each on their own is acceptable—in fact, losing to Cole Hamels is probably the easiest to swallow of the aforementioned—but as the little things continue to add up, they become the types of problems we will point to if the Cubs are on the outside looking in come October. But keep in mind, the Cubs are just 1.5 games out of a Wild Card spot, they’re still looking to improve over the next week, and they’re six games over .500. This inability to maximize on the weaker part of their schedule doesn’t sink their season, but it certainly makes things harder and makes upcoming matchups with the Pirates and Giants—the two teams in front of them in the Wild Card race—all the more important.
Lead photo courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports