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Cubs offense disappears in doubleheader loss to Cardinals

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These guys have to start hitting, and soon.

This was a familiar scene Saturday... a Cardinals runner crossing the plate
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

I can hear it now: “Why didn’t the Cubs address their starting pitching?” “Why didn’t they have better guys to start the doubleheader?”

You can complain about Cubs pitching all you want, but the fact is that they weren’t going to win these games if they didn’t score any runs.

The Cubs offense pretty much vanished in a 5-1 Game 2 loss to the Cardinals Saturday evening.

A third-inning leadoff double by Jason Kipnis (stranded).

A fifth-inning leadoff single by Nico Hoerner (scored after two wild pitches and a groundout).

A sixth-inning one-out single by Jason Heyward (never got past first base).

That, plus six walks, was the sum total of the Cubs offense. Despite all the walks, Kipnis was the only Cub to get past first base in Game 2 — twice, once on the double, once after he walked in the fifth. That happened on David Bote’s RBI groundout. Here, it’s the only real Cubs highlight of Game 2, so have a look [VIDEO].

You can actually see Kipnis taking second base in that clip! Exciting! (Yes, sarcasm.)

The six walks gave the Cubs 177 for the season, or 4.05 per game. That’s a pace for 656 in a 162-game season, which would match the franchise record set in 2016. So, yay?

Would this game have turned out any differently if Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant hadn’t been rested? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But I do know this. The offense needs to get untracked. Like, now.

After Game 1 the Cubs recalled Tyson Miller from the alternate site in South Bend and designated Steven Souza Jr. for assignment. Souza, trying to make a comeback from serious knee injuries, hit .148/.258/.333 (4-for-27) with 15 strikeouts. His sole season highlight was a game-tying late-inning home run in a game the Cubs eventually lost anyway. The signing, which cost the Cubs very little money (a pro-rated portion of $1 million), was a worthwhile chance. It just didn’t work out.

When infielder Ildemaro Vargas, claimed on waivers Saturday, reports to the club, I’d guess Miller will be sent back to South Bend. The Cubs were down a position player for Saturday’s second game and Vargas is out of options, so I presume they acquired him to be on the 28-man roster. Vargas can play multiple positions and had a decent year as a bench player in 2019 for the Diamondbacks, so perhaps he can be more useful than Souza.

Another experiment that doesn’t seem to be working: The acquisition of Jose Martinez. Martinez, who used to wear Cubs pitching out while with the Cardinals, especially at Wrigley Field, is 0-for-13 as a Cub and looks lost at the plate. Cubs designated hitters are batting .179/.286/.291 (24-for-134) with 50 strikeouts. Their .577 OPS ranks 27th. Yikes.

The first game was one of those where you start out well, then have the other guy on the ropes and when you blow an opportunity, you know, just know it’s not going to work out.

That’s basically the story of the Cubs’ 4-2 loss in Game 1.

It started out well, with a leadoff homer by Ian Happ [VIDEO].

That one was a no-doubter:

But then the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out in the second. When you see “but then” in front of those other words you know it’s not going to have a good ending, and it didn’t. When you have a veteran like Adam Wainwright on the ropes like that, you’ve got to come through and the Cubs didn’t. Souza struck out, Nico Hoerner lined out and Happ hit into a force play.

Then the Cardinals put together a two-run rally against Adbert Alzolay which involved only two balls hit out of the infield and a run scoring on a force play which probably should have been an inning-ending double play [VIDEO].

I’m not sure what happened there, whether Hoerner’s relay throw was off or if Anthony Rizzo just missed it, but you have to turn that play. That seemed to rattle Alzolay, who threw eight straight balls, forcing in another run. That was it for Alzolay.

Ryan Tepera finished off that inning, but was touched up for two more in the fourth, making it 4-1.

Happ made it 4-2 in the fifth with his second homer of the game [VIDEO].

But that was it. Happ certainly seems to have Wainwright’s number — he’s now 8-for-14 lifetime against him with four home runs. Also, obviously, Ian’s eye is just fine, or fine enough, anyway, after that scary incident with the foul ball in Pittsburgh Thursday. Happ’s 12 homers tie him for third place in the National League with Marcell Ozuna, Eugenio Suarez (who hit three Saturday) and Manny Machado.

Jason Adam and Dan Winkler kept it close with three innings of scoreless relief, and Adam’s appearance brought out this bit of wit from Cardinals beat writer Derrick Goold:

The Cubs had a shot in the last of the seventh when Hoerner singled with one out and after the second out had been recorded, Tommy Edman made an error on a Kris Bryant grounder that could have ended the game. Bryant reached and that brought Rizzo to the plate as the potential winning run, but he struck out to end it.

The Cubs’ lead dropped to 2½ games over the Cardinals, just the second time since August 2 the lead has been fewer than three games. Despite the doubleheader loss, the Cubs still appear to be in the driver’s seat in the NL Central. They can still win this series by taking the games Sunday and Monday, and this doubleheader was the Cubs’ last of the year, barring rainouts. The Cardinals have at least six remaining, seven if they have to play a makeup twin bill against the Tigers the day after the season ends, and they have to do that with only one off day. The schedule, at least, favors the Cubs.

But they need to start hitting. Like, now.

The Cubs and Cardinals will be the featured ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game this evening at 6 p.m. CT. Jon Lester will start for the Cubs and Dakota Hudson will go for the Cardinals.