The defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs enter the All-Star break under .500. Many ingredients have gone into the stew of surprising mediocrity, with the drop-off in starting pitching the most glaring.
Jon Lester19-5/2.44 ERA/1.016 WHIP
Jake Arrieta 18-8/3.10/1.084
Kyle Hendricks 16-8/2.13/0.979
John Lackey 11-8/3.35/1.057
Jon Lester 5-6/4.25/1.343
Jake Arrieta 8-7/4.35/1.303
Kyle Hendricks 4-3/4.09/1.20
John Lackey 5-9/5.20/1.328
Expecting this quartet to replicate the successes of last season was always too optimistic. Surely one or two would regress. But to have all four stumble dramatically was unforeseen and could prove too fatal in the Cubs’ quest to repeat.
And it’s not so much that the starting pitching has been shaky and inconsistent. It’s been dreadful from the very onset. The Cubs’ staff has allowed an average of .91 runs in the first frame this year, easily the worst in the majors, and a far cry from the stingy .41 number posted in 2016.
The old axiom “it’s not how you start but how you finish” doesn’t carry much weight when the starts are this poor. A year after everything seemed to fall into place, the Cubs are constantly playing catch-up, always counterpunching without landing the opening salvo.
Quite simply, the defending champs have been on the defensive.
On Sunday afternoon, the trend of allowing crooked numbers in the first reached a new phase as the Pittsburgh Pirates touched up Lester for 10 runs — four of them earned — en route to a 14-3 victory at Wrigley.
The numbers speak for themselves. Then there’s the emotional element. The longer this slump goes on, the harder it becomes to ignore it. Ending a narrative requires creating a new one and the only way to do that is to post some zeros in the first inning.
For the entire first half, the baseball world has been waiting for the Cubs to turn it on and kick it in gear. There’s plenty of time left for them to find the groove but the hole they’ve created for themselves can’t be ignored.
Joe Maddon’s club trails the Milwaukee Brewers by 5.5 games in the NL Central. A 43-45 record puts them even with the St. Louis Cardinals, meaning the Cubs must outplay two division clubs down the stretch. With Arizona and Colorado both playing excellent ball, a 7.5-game deficit in the Wild Card race is the “safety net.”
Good luck with that.
There is no doubting that the North Siders have the talent to do so. It’s time for them to start playing up to their potential. And that all starts with the first impression.