Two things, in my view, defined the Cubs’ 2-1 loss to the Padres Wednesday afternoon, a loss that swept them out of a West Coast trip for the first time since the awful 2012 Cubs suffered the same fate.
First is the attempt of Willson Contreras to take third base [VIDEO] on a little infield single by Javier Baez that scored the Cubs’ only run of the game.
Maybe that’s just hindsight. There were two out and no guarantees the offensively-impotent Cubs would have scored again. But Willson, you’re already in scoring position! That was an unnecessary chance.
Second was Joe Maddon’s decision to pull Carl Edwards Jr. after a seven-pitch seventh inning. Yes, I know Koji Uehara hadn’t thrown in a week and needed the work. But this isn’t spring training, the Cubs are on a long losing streak and trying to win games. Uehara isn’t nearly the sort of dominant reliever CJ is, and it showed in the eighth when he allowed a triple by Franchy Cordero and then a high throw from Ian Happ with the infield pulled in allowed Cordero to score the decisive run.
Really, the Cubs should have won this game. Jake Arrieta had one of his better outings of the season, allowing five hits and one run in six innings, with seven strikeouts. He made one mistake and Ryan Schimpf sent it out of the park, tying the game in the second inning. Jake threw just 83 pitches, 52 for strikes, and had his curveball working very well. This is a good sign going forward, I think.
The Cubs, again, failed with RISP: 1-for-9. This has been a common theme through not only this road trip, but the entire month. Len Kasper’s line described the month of May well: it should have been designated for assignment. Between the horrendous weather in Chicago, this road trip and the overall 12-16 record, the Cubs will surely be happy to see May in the rear-view mirror.
Credit where credit is due department: Happ made two very nice defensive plays in center field. First, this sliding grab in the third [VIDEO].
Then in the sixth, Happ made this leaping grab at the wall [VIDEO] to rob Wil Myers.
Give Happ a lot of credit. Center field isn’t his natural position, but he looks like he can handle it well at the big-league level.
The Cubs had just three hits on the afternoon — the RBI infield single by Baez and singles by Contreras and Kris Bryant. I mean, teams go through slumps, but this is getting ridiculous. This team has much more talent than we saw on this road trip, on which the Cubs got outscored 31-9 and scored more than two runs exactly once. The question is: Is this just a natural slump that some teams will go through, even good ones, or is it a real decline in talent level?
I’d lean toward “natural slump.” Even last year’s championship team had a stretch in which they lost nine of 10 and were outscored 74-42 — and without the one win in that span the margin was 70-32.
One thing I haven’t changed my mind on is Kyle Schwarber. Warbird went 0-for-4 with two more strikeouts in this one, and this sums up my feelings:
Let's put into perspective how poorly Schwarber is doing right now: At this point last year, Jason Heyward was hitting 50 points higher.— Cubs No-Hit Streak (@CubsNoHitStreak) May 31, 2017
Give Schwarber a break. Send him to Triple-A Iowa for maybe a week or so, just to let him clear his head and make some adjustments.
Meanwhile, the loss puts the Cubs two games under .500 for the first time this year. The Cubs have been so good over the last two full seasons that this is the first time any Cubs team has been that far under .500 since the last day of the 2014 season, when they finished 73-89.
Even with this loss, if the Brewers and Cardinals lose Wednesday evening, the Cubs will still be only 1½ games out of first place. The worst-case scenario is three games behind, and that would require the Brewers to win both Wednesday and Thursday in New York.
Three games behind... with 110 remaining. That doesn’t seem so insurmountable, does it?
Regardless, if the Chicago Cubs are going to resume winning, they are simply going to have to start hitting better.
The Cubs will regroup on their off day Thursday and then begin an important 10-game homestand with a three-game set against the Cardinals. Friday afternoon’s series opener matches up John Lackey for the Cubs and Lance Lynn for the Cardinals.