THEY’RE BATTLING, JUST NOT BATTING
There’s really no quibbling with Cubs’ record, but their hitting leaves much to be desired
The Cubs staggered out of a doubleheader Monday against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field, coughing, wheezing, kicking up fumes of futility and, oh, yeah, sporting a 14-7 record, one of the best in baseball.
You win two of three throughout a normal season, and you get to 108-54. You do it in a 60-game sprint, and you get to 40-20. Either way, you’re riding high into the playoffs.
But the Cubs are batting .229 as a team. If that’s riding high, what’s with nearly all their reputed offensive stars scraping the bottom of the barrel?
And they’re striking out 10½ times a game, more than any other team in the big leagues. It only seems as though Javy Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant are responsible for all those whiffs.
There’s smoke-and-mirrors, then there’s whatever the heck we’re seeing with the leaders of the National League Central. Is it possible the Cubs have found the secret formula for .667 baseball — missing the ball as often as possible and having all your best hitters languish around .200?
‘‘We’ve been waiting for that big hit and still for some of those guys at the top [of the order] to get going,’’ manager David Ross said. ‘‘They’re grinding, they’re working. You see how hard they’re working, and they want something to fall . . . . [But] we’re going to be a really strong offense.’’
In fairness, there aren’t many of those — strong offenses — out there, at least not yet. Entering play Tuesday, the batting average across the majors was .241, which would be the lowest for a full season since 1968.
But there’s alarmingly little time left in this coronavirus-shortened season for the Cubs’ offense to kick into high gear. Pinch hitter David Bote’s three-run home run off Cardinals reliever Tyler Webb that saved the nightcap Monday was one of six hits the Cubs managed in that doubleheader. It ended a fourgame losing streak, which, in a normal season, would be like dropping 10.8 in a row. We’ll round that up to 11 for dramatic effect.
‘‘When you lose, it sucks,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘It always
sucks, especially with the vibe and the energy and everything we have going on here.’’
The vibe in the Cubs’ dugout was something special as they raced to a 13-3 start — players clapping, dancing, grooving and so on — but things got noticeably quieter as they lost three in a row at home against the Brewers and added an offensive no-show in the opener against the Cardinals. It’s hard to keep dancing when there’s so little of that sweet summer music of bat smacking ball.
I know batting averages are for rubes and dinosaurs, but Baez is hitting .200 and Bryant — who took an injection in his left wrist — is at .177. That reminds me: Which one of these guys is the best player on the Cubs? If each keeps reaching base roughly once in every four trips to the plate, the only answer is going to be neither.
Schwarber is hitting .227. Contreras is at .231. Not to be outdone are Nico Hoerner at .196, Steven Souza Jr. at .190 and Albert Almora Jr. at .118. Couldn’t Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish have done that?
Speaking of starting pitching, the Cubs’ has been, on the whole, excellent. The team’s record more than gets the job done, too. So why am I complaining?
Because if the Cubs don’t hit, the center will not hold. A house of cards will come down. The bottom of the barrel will lose all its charm. What was it Rizzo said about losing again?
A week ago, it was reported far and wide that Big Ten university presidents had voted — not quite unanimously, but close — to cancel the fall football season and, if possible, move it to the spring of 2021.
First-year commissioner Kevin Warren did nothing to dissuade anyone of that notion.
Now, though, multiple administrators in the league — including at least one president — are questioning whether any such vote occurred. Meanwhile, players are speaking out, none more prominently than Ohio State’s alleverything quarterback, Justin Fields, who started an online petition with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay. Even parents of players around the league are organizing, pressuring the conference to play football in the fall and seeking an in-person meeting with Warren.
It’s chaos, a disaster, a mess . . . except not really. Despite all the noise, there still won’t be Big Ten football in 2020. Sorry, sports fans.
◆ In other news, Auburn revealed that 33 of its football players have tested positive for COVID-19 this summer.
In Southeastern Conference country, that’s known as “a little adversity.”
Rub some dirt on it, Bubba, and get back in there.
◆ Bears coach Matt Nagy, after the team’s first padded practice, on the quarterback competition between incumbent Mitch Trubisky and newcomer Nick Foles:
‘‘We are going to stretch that out as far as we possibly can.’’ Translation:
‘‘How’s our punter looking?’’
◆ Nothing is funnier than White Sox left fielder Eloy Jimenez crossing his arms and not even looking at a ball hit right at him because he knows rookie Luis Robert is running all the way over from center field to catch it because, well, Robert can.
Who does Robert think he is, Kelly Leak?
That’s a ‘‘Bad News Bears’’ reference, kids.
◆ My usual feelings about the first round of the NBA playoffs can be summed up as: Wake me when the mismatches are over.
There’s something about this bubble business, though, that’s creating a vibe of anythingmight-happen. Witness: Magic 122, Bucks 110 in the series opener between the teams Tuesday.
More of that, please.
Kyle Schwarber entered play Tuesday hitting .227, one of too many Cubs who have struggled to get going offensively.
Kris Bryant, who received an injection Tuesday for his ailing left wrist, is batting a paltry .177. The Cubs entered play Tuesday hitting .229 as a team.