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Astros 2, Cubs 1: Where’s The Offense?

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You can’t win if you don’t hit.

Photo by Richard Carson/Getty Images

Remember when I wrote this in the recap to Friday’s game?

I was sitting around watching the Cubs fecklessly take at-bats in the early innings of Friday night’s game, and miss another excellent chance to score on the opposing starter in the first inning, and wondering how I was going to write a “Where’s the offense gone?” recap.

Guess I was just a few hours too early on that, because the offense pretty much completely vanished in Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 loss to the Astros.

Two hits, two measly hits, the fewest for the Cubs in any game since they lost 4-1 to the Nationals nearly three months ago, June 13 in Washington.

You’re not going to win games like those unless your starting pitcher is nearly perfect, and John Lackey wasn’t.

Not to say that Lackey threw poorly in his second start off the DL -- he actually was decent, throwing six innings, allowing four hits and two runs in a pretty good 89-pitch outing. He issued three walks, although none of them figured in the Astros’ two-run inning that was the difference in the game. Alex Bregman homered with one out in the third, then after singles put runners on first and third, ex-Cub farmhand Marwin Gonzalez executed a perfect squeeze bunt to give Houston the lead. You know, the kind of squeeze we’ve seen Cubs hitters put down several times this year.

Lackey, meanwhile, wasn’t happy with some of plate umpire Mark Carlson’s calls. This is typical Lackey, but oddly enough, @CubsUmp says the only missed call that occurred while Lackey was on the mound actually helped him:

Here was another game where the Cubs had the opposition starter on the ropes in the first inning, but couldn’t score. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a single and went to second when an errant throw back to first got away. But Kris Bryant grounded to short and Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Soler struck out. Really, you’ve got to get at least one run home in a situation like that.

The Cubs got one of the two runs back in the fourth. Soler walked, Miguel Montero — there’s one of those two measly hits — doubled him to third, and Soler scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Willson Contreras.

Here’s the nice slide by Soler. [VIDEO]

And here’s the nice defensive play the Cubs turned in the seventh inning. George Springer walked with two out, then tried to score all the way from first on a line-drive hit to right. Jason Heyward’s throw went to Javier Baez, who threw to Contreras, who tagged Springer on the leg just before Springer’s hand touched the plate. The play was ruled “call stands” on review:

Contreras had walked with one out in the top of that inning, but was thrown out easily trying to steal second. Me? I wouldn’t have tried that. In a game where there isn’t much offense, you try to keep the baserunners you have. I suppose I understand the idea behind the steal, trying to get someone in scoring position, but... again, you’ve got a runner on, keep him there. Contreras isn’t that fast.

In the eighth, Tommy La Stella walked with one out (see a pattern here?) and was replaced by pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki, who was successful stealing second. Now the Cubs have a runner in scoring position with Fowler and Bryant coming up. They both struck out.

The ninth inning? More of the same. Rizzo led off with a walk and was replaced by pinch-runner Matt Szczur, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Soler again struck out. Montero grounded out, with Szczur taking third. Contreras ... well, was he really trying to bunt or just faking it? He looked like he was trying to bunt for a hit, but strike one was called. Eventually Astros closer Ken Giles struck him out to end it. The Cubs were 0-for-10 with RISP in this game, and I have now taken nearly 700 words to tell you the story I could have written in this one sentence. Despite having only two hits, the six walks gave them plenty of chances, and they took advantage of precisely none of the RISP situations.

Give credit to the Astros. They’re a pretty good team with a solid late-inning bullpen, and they still have a shot at one of the American League wild-card spots. If they get there, they could be tough in October, as they were last year, when they came within six outs of sending the eventual champion Royals home in the division series.

Early in the game there was an eight-minute delay when a fan suffered an apparent epileptic seizure in the stands:

Later reports indicated the fan appeared to be OK, which is good news.

The Cubs will have to get offensive production back in order to start winning again, no matter how good the starting pitching is. They’ve allowed just four runs in the last three games. This is good! They’ve scored just four runs in the last three games. This is not good! Hopefully, the pitching holds up while the hitters get their mojo back.

Cubs walk watch: The Cubs walked six times in this game, which is the most they’ve had in a game this month. That makes 569 for the season, or 4.04 per game. They are still on pace -- just barely — to break the team record of 650, set in 1975. The pace is now for 653, so if they can hold it, they’ll break the record on the last day of the season.

For now, the magic numbers for winning the division (seven) and having the best record in the N.L. (14) stay the same, pending the outcome of the Cardinals and Nationals games Saturday night.

Right now, the focus is on winning Sunday’s game and the series in Houston. The game is ESPN’s featured Sunday night game and will be at 7:05 p.m. CT. Jake Arrieta goes for the Cubs and Mike Fiers for the Astros.