Suddenly, the Chicago Cubs have some problems and some flaws.
They’re still 51-30 but just got swept in a four-game series by the Mets for the second time in team history (the other coming in 1985). They were outscored 32-11 in the four games, losing a pair by one run and two games by at least eight runs.
What issues are most prominent?
The Cubs miss center fielder Dexter Fowler, who is out with a hamstring injury. They’re 8-12 when he doesn’t start, 5-9 since he has been injured. Fowler has hit .291 with a .397 on-base percentage and .485 slugging percentage when he has played center field this season.
Others who have played center have combined to hit .267 with a .341 on-base percentage and .390 slugging percentage for the Cubs this season.
The production of Ben Zobrist has tailed off of late, though he did have a stretch of three straight multihit games earlier this week. He’s hitting .219/.321/.397 in his past 20 games after a .324/.431/.500 start to the season in his first 57 games.
On a broader note, the team’s success with runners in scoring position has dissipated. The Cubs have hit .176 over a 102 at-bat, 13-game slump that began June 21.
Jake Arrieta seems to have hit a wall. He has pitched to a 3.77 ERA in his past eight starts and failed to get through six innings in five of them (including three straight). He has walked 22 batters in 45 1/3 innings in that span after walking 20 batters in 63 innings in his first nine starts.
Though his fastball is netting swings-and-misses at a high rate (26 percent in his past eight starts), Arrieta isn’t getting hitters to chase either of his breaking pitches at the frequency he’s used to. Opponents were 12-for-87 (.138 batting average) against the Arrieta curveball and slider in his first nine starts and 12-for-53 (.226 batting average) against it in his past eight starts.
Also potentially noteworthy: Arrieta’s fastball averaged 92.9 mph against the Mets, his lowest velocity of the season and a bit below his season average (94 mph).
But let’s counter that with one positive. Arrieta’s hard-hit rate in his first nine starts and past eight starts is just about identical (11 percent).
Jason Hammel has also been unable to maintain the pace he set early in the season. He had a 2.14 ERA through his first 11 starts, then alternated OK starts (a pair of 5 2/3-inning stints allowing three runs and four runs) and good ones (a combined 13 innings and three runs allowed against the Nationals and Marlins), before giving up 10 runs in four innings against the Mets.
Beware the 1977 Cubs
The Cubs are 51-30, their best mark at the season’s midway point since the 1977 team was 51-30.
But the 1977 Cubs are not a pleasant memory. They started 47-22 and led the NL East by as much as 8½ games. These are the Cubs of Bill Buckner, 20-game winner Rick Reuschel and future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. But the team cratered in the second half of the year, going 34-59 in the last 93 games to finish 81-81, good for fourth place.