Nine games into a season is generally a stupid time to declare any team has major problems. It’s just about five percent of a season. Barely a pimple on the nose of the body of the season. But if you’re the Chicago Cubs, and you’ve had the last couple of seasons they’ve had, and you’re doing/fucking up the same things again, certainly they come under a sharper spotlight than nine games normally would warrant.
The Cubs had a rough weekend, which you would know by simply reading that they lost two of three to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who don’t have “win two out of any three games” listed among their season’s goals or hopes. The Cubs were sloppy, the middle of their rotation bad, but the overall problem, as it’s been, is that they couldn’t get a hit with anyone on base.
That’s how you end up scoring seven runs over three games against a Pirates team that’s putting the thoroughly bewildered on the mound every day.
For the season, the Cubs are hitting .095 with runners in scoring position. That starts with a 0. Now, there is no such thing as “clutch,” but when this has gone one for multiple seasons, you begin to wonder if something isn’t in the troughs at Wrigley. Last year, in the shortened season, the Cubs hit .241 with runners in scoring position, good for 25th in baseball. In total, this is just 69 games, which, though spread over two calendar years, is not even half of a baseball season.
But this sets off alarm bells on the Northside, because frustration with both the fans and players was in touching distance of boiling point before the season even started. Given that Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kris Bryant are all free agents when the season ends, and Willson Contreras after next year, and that extension talks have gone nowhere with all of them, there is a “last tango in Lakeview” feeling about this year. Given that ownership and the front office have at least hinted that they would prefer the Cubs spit it in the season’s first half so they can flog (at the very least) Bryant and closer Craig Kimbrel for parts, there was added pressure for this group to perform above expectations to keep the band together just a little longer.
But the problems remain the same. The Cubs can’t get the bat on the ball. They’re 28th in baseball in contact rate, after finishing 26th last year and 29th in 2019. They’re third in strikeout percentage, after ranking 4th last year.
Once again, in a league that becomes more and more fascinated by launch angle and getting the ball into the air, the Cubs have been intent on death-by-hipster tactics of going the other way and beating the ball into the ground. Baez has a 61 percent ground-ball percentage on contact. Contreras 53 percent. David Bote is at 61 percent. Jason Heyward is at 50 percent. And they just don’t hit the ball very hard. Their leading average exit velocity is Baez at 91.6 MPH, which is good for 51st in the league. Keep in mind, this is with getting six of their first nine games against the Pirates.
At the root of it, and the reason the Cubs offense can be so patchy, is it’s hardly a secret how to get them out. They’re hitting .028 on fastballs over 95 MPH, dead-ass last in MLB. And this was after they were dead-ass last in the same category last year, hitting .195 (league average was .242). This couldn’t have been in clearer relief during the Cubs’ cameo in the playoffs last year as Miami’s Sandy Alcantara and Sixto Sanchez gleefully pumped fastball after fastball at the Cubs hitters and watched them all spin-cycle themselves right back to the dugout.
Overriding this is just how joyless the Cubs have been for a couple of seasons now. This was the Good Time Bunch 2015-2017, and now they all look like they’d rather be anywhere else (and a lot of them soon will be). It started with Anthony Rizzo going public with how derisory the Cubs’ offer of an extension was, which joined the years of trade rumors Bryant has had to endure as well as the salary dump of Yu Darvish for the Magic: The Gathering offerings of Zach Davies and a couple of zygotes. It’s kind of amazing to watch a core of a team that happily stared down the greatest pressure in the sport — the Cubs World Series drought — just five years ago can’t even overcome a midseason AB with runners on in the 6th inning now. Watching the team captain get dicked over by the organization so far and their best pitcher shipped off for nothing hasn’t done morale much good.
Oh, and apparently they’re a bunch of jarheads who can’t hit the 85-percent threshold on vaccinations to get their COVID restrictions eased. Vaccination hesitancy is understandable in minority communities, but the Cubs only have four Black or Latino players. But they seemingly do have enough “MUH RIGHTS” dummards to keep them under 85 percent. What a fun bunch.
Maybe it’s best if this is all broken up before the trade deadline. No one is getting anything out of this at the moment.