The Cubs open play Monday with a 60-51 record and a 1½-game lead in the N.L. Central.
That’s pretty good, but as you likely know, it could be better if not for the team’s inexplicable inability to win games away from Wrigley Field. Through Sunday they are 39-18 at home. That’s the second-best home record in the N.L. (Dodgers, 43-15) and fourth-best in MLB (Yankees, 43-18 and Astros, 41-15).
The other three teams noted there are running away with their divisions because they all have decent-to-good records away from their home parks.
The Cubs... don’t. They are 21-33 (.389) away from Wrigley Field. Only the Marlins — who are 25 games under .500 overall — are worse in the National League (20-32, .384).
This home-road split got even more extreme after the All-Star break. Since the break the Cubs are 10-2 at home, but 3-6 on the road.
This also piqued my interest: In those post-All-Star contests, the Cubs are 10-1 in day games, 3-7 in night games.
So does that matter? The time the game is played? I went through the Cubs’ entire schedule and here’s how the home/road, day/night win/loss splits look through Sunday:
Home day games: 22-11
Home night games: 17-7
Road day games: 8-6
Road night games: 13-27
The Cubs are a .661 team (47-24) when they are playing anywhere except on the road at night, when they turn into the equivalent of a 110-loss team.
The Cubs have six walkoff losses. Five of those are in night games.
You might not think this matters. I do. The reason I’m bringing this all up is this quote from Theo Epstein in this recent article in The Athletic:
“I just think we’re trying the same thing over and over again, but it’s not working,” Epstein said. “We can try to look to shake some things up, either with our preparation or our patterns or whether it’s time for more work, less work, I don’t know. But we have to try some different things because we tend to get some momentum when we get back home, everyone starts feeling better about the team and maybe we get ahead of ourselves a little bit.”
You might recall that one of the things Theo and Joe Maddon agreed on when they had their meetings about the 2018 season was that the team would take more batting practice. I can confirm that’s being done at home; last year the Cubs might have taken BP once or twice a week at Wrigley. Now it’s nearly every day except on getaway days. Joe’s theory was that too much BP tired the guys out and he was trying to avoid fatigue. I don’t know if they’ve been doing this on the road this year, but if they are, perhaps they ought to cut down on that as well.
Obviously, that’s not going to solve the bullpen issues that have had them lose six games on walkoffs. Win those six games and the road record is 27-27 and we’re not having this conversation. Overall the Cubs have lost eight games this year in which they’ve led entering the eighth inning and four when they’ve led entering the ninth inning. That’s a lot — most good teams don’t do that. The Dodgers, for example, are at half those numbers (four losses when leading entering the eighth, two when leading entering the ninth) and the Yankees half of the Dodgers’ numbers (two and one, respectively). This is something that, presumably, Craig Kimbrel can fix as we continue this season.
I honestly don’t know if there’s anything to that extreme day/night split on the road, if there’s a reason for it or if it’s just random. Given that we are two-thirds of the way through this season, I suspect it’s more than just random, and I thought I would present it here for discussion.
There’s one last thing I want to present here as an extreme split for this year’s Cubs. They are 25-21 against N.L. Central teams. That’s the second-best mark among N.L. Central teams within the division. Here are the others: Cardinals 26-20, Brewers 27-24, Reds 24-28 and Pirates 20-29.
But the 25-21 Cubs mark breaks down this way:
Home vs. N.L. Central: 19-5
Road vs. N.L. Central: 6-16
That 19-5 home record includes 5-1 vs. the Brewers and 6-0 vs. the Cardinals.
Now you explain that. I can’t. It’s facing the same teams, generally with the same starting pitchers and same lineups. The last Cubs team that had an overall winning record, but a losing record on the road, was the 2009 club. They were 46-34 at Wrigley, 37-44 on the road for an 83-78 overall record (one game was postponed and not made up). But even those numbers aren’t as extreme as they are this year.
In summary: The Cubs have some extreme home/road splits this season, more so than in any year since they returned to contention in 2015. They’re going to have to figure out why, and do something about it, in order to win the N.L. Central this year.