Major League Baseball’s season is two months old and the defending World Series champions are floundering. The Chicago Cubs are now two games below .500 (25-27) after being swept by the lowly San Diego Padres. This is no longer just a slump, it’s become a problem.
The Cubs can’t hit, their pitching has been a huge disappointment and they can’t even do the simple things it takes to win games. This team was nearly perfect last season, so what gives?
On top of the list of Cubs disappointments is left fielder Kyle Schwarber whose performance at the plate his been inexplicably awful. The 24-year-old is now hitting just .165 with eight home runs and 19 RBI. In 47 games he has struck out 60 times, has an on-base percentage of .286 and an OPS of .627. His 27 walks rank 11th in the National League, but other than that the Indiana product has been dismal.
In his rookie campaign back in 2015 Schwarber hit .246 with a .842 OPS, 16 home runs and 43 RBI in just 69 games. He missed all but two regular season games in 2016 after suffering a torn ACL, but returned for the World Series and was outstanding in the five games he played. He hit .412 with seven hits in 17 at bats, while adding three walks and two RBI. Clearly he can hit, but this year he’s been absolutely terrible.
This could be as simple as opponents figuring out Schwarber’s weaknesses and exploiting them, but a guy like him can’t not hit. Unlike Jason Heyward, Schwarber doesn’t provide enough value in the field to make up for floundering at the plate. He’s a natural hitter who has raked at every level, so it’s likely this will pass. But as of now it’s been a disastrous season so far.
Schwarber isn’t the only Cub struggling. Kris Bryant (.278), Anthony Rizzo (.227), Ben Zobrist (.247), Addison Russell (.216) and Javy Baez (.262) are all hitting worse than they did last season. The Cubs currently rank 23rd in baseball in OPS (.728), last year they were third (.772). This is an across-the-board drop off that has impacted the entire roster.
While the Cubs offense have been in a funk, the pitching hasn’t lived up to expectations either. Staff ace Jake Arrieta has been shaky at best, posting a 4.60 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and allowing 11 home runs and 67 hits in 62.2 innings. But Jon Lester (3.86), Kyle Hendricks (3.75) and John Lackey (5.18) all have higher ERAs than last season. Oh, and their WHIPs are similarly inflated.
Manager Joe Maddon doesn’t seem to have any answers right now. In fact, no one on the Cubs seems to know what’s up. This is either a ridiculous World Series hangover or the rest of baseball has finally figured out how to attack the Northsiders.
The good news for Cubs fans is that the NL Central looks brutal this year. Despite their awful performance, the Cubs are only two games back of the Milwaukee Brewers for first-place in the division. They also haven’t played a game in June yet. There’s plenty of time for things to turn around, but it’s fair to question just how they wound up in this position.20