CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs might want to forget Tuesday ever happened. The afternoon began with a rough news conference for new closer Aroldis Chapman and it ended with the team getting shut out for the first time since May 31.
Chicago White Sox veteran James Shields stymied the Cubs, just as the opposing starter has done against them for the past three days. Only a late-inning comeback Sunday has kept the Cubs from a four-game losing streak.
“I’m not creating excuses, but we’re young offensively and you see pitchers, [Miguel] Gonzalez yesterday, Shields today, [they] really know what they’re doing,” manager Joe Maddon said after the 3-0 loss. “Even [Junior] Guerra on Milwaukee. We’ve seen guys recently that have a good feel for what they’re doing and have taken advantage of our youth.”
The Cubs have scored a total of three earned runs against the opposing starter over the past four games. That’s not getting it done, especially the past two nights against the White Sox where they can use the designated hitter.
Maybe these kinds of hitting woes are one reason the Cubs haven’t closed the door on another trade, this time for a veteran hitter, according to sources. They’re due to get back Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan soon but is it enough?
Also, can the offensive issues all be chalked up simply to youth? Maybe not. Tuesday’s lineup was about as experienced as any the Cubs can field, which still means it was young, but at least 24-year-old Willson Contreras wasn’t bringing the average age down. And besides, it’s the veterans who are struggling. Even though they had three hits between them, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward have had the biggest issues on offense. And Kris Bryant had yet another off night against Shields, striking out three times — all on changeups.
“I had some good at-bats, but he just figured it out,” Bryant said. “He’s more fastball/changeup. We don’t see enough of those guys.”
Bryant is now 1-for-10 against Shields in his career, including seven strikeouts. The bigger concern is his struggles against changeups in general. He was hitting .065 off them before Tuesday’s game. According to ESPN Stats Information, that ranks last among all qualified hitters in baseball. Those are glaring numbers though the offensive struggles are not nearly confined to Bryant.
“Overall, the starting pitching the last four games has forced us out of our game plan,” Maddon said. “When they make a mistake, it has to be hit hard and kept fair. We have not done that.”
Heyward alternates between hitting the ball hard at someone — usually right into someone’s glove playing the shift — or rolling a soft ground ball over to second base. Or popping the ball up. Meanwhile, Zobrist’s batting average has taken a nosedive for almost two full months. First it was the hard-throwers and now the past four games have been about the soft-tossers, according to Maddon.
“Really similar pitchers,” he said. “Cut from the same cloth, actually. They made their pitches. A lot of it had to do with that. We saw quadruple — four similar pitchers that pitched well and gave us a hard time.”
The Cubs might be lucky, at least in one sense. The focus on Wednesday will undoubtedly be on Chapman’s awkward conversation with reporters via interpreter and coach Henry Blanco, before he eventually expressed himself more eloquently in Spanish with ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. Though it’s not the focus the team wants, it might give their hitters a pass as the series heads to Wrigley Field. Finding hits has been tough, while looming Thursday is the return of White Sox ace Chris Sale from his five-game suspension.
“That game [Tuesday] is a game you want to win when you only give up three runs,” Maddon said. “We just have to be able to adjust to different pitchers on a nightly basis.”