THEY’RE BAT­TLING, JUST NOT BATTING

There’s re­ally no quib­bling with Cubs’ record, but their hit­ting leaves much to be de­sired

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - STEVE GREEN­BERG sgreen­berg@sun­times.com | @SLGreen­berg

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?

Just sayin’

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.

GETTY IM­AGES

Kyle Sch­war­ber en­tered play Tues­day hit­ting .227, one of too many Cubs who have strug­gled to get go­ing of­fen­sively.

JONATHAN DANIEL/GETTY IM­AGES

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.

Kevin War­ren

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