MLB Playoffs 2016: Cubs still confident anemic offense will turn around
The Cubs' offense this postseason has been surprisingly weak
LOS ANGELES -- The headlines will read that the Chicago Cubs have been shutout in back-to-back postseason games for the first time in franchise history. They might also say that no LCS team to ever be shutout twice in the same series has ever advanced to the World Series.
Those things are both true, of course, but the dirty little secret about the Cubs' offense is that throughout the postseason, it hasn't been very good. Warts have been covered up by pitchers driving in some runs (including two unlikely homers), some timely hitting and some heavy lifting from Kris Bryant and Javier Baez .
Otherwise, it really has been terrible.
Again, many will choose to focus on the last two games. In Game 2, Clayton Kershaw threw seven scoreless innings and was followed by Kenley Jansen for two. That can be forgiven. That's a deadly combo. In Game 4, it was Rich Hill . He actually posted a 2.00 ERA in 24 starts in the last two regular seasons. If you wanted to go back to the series against the San Francisco Giants , the Cubs saw Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner in two games of the series.
At some point, though, you're just making excuses for them instead of just telling it like it is. They aren't hitting. This team was dominated by Matt Moore . Hill gave up five runs on nine hits in seven innings in the NLDS against the Washington Nationals . Even the Game 1 explosion was heavily reliant on the one Miguel Montero swing (grand slam) when two of the runners were on base thanks to Dave Roberts overmanaging.
"Rich Hill threw the ball well, but I don't feel like we're swinging the bats well," Montero said. "We could have a better approach at the plate, as a team. It's not just one guy or two guys."
"I think we're trying to do too much. We're all trying to be heroes here. You have to just take what they give you. You get a ground ball to second to move the runner over, just take that. Each guy should just try to do one good thing. If it's a walk, that's a good thing. If everyone just does one good thing, that's nine good things and that's how you start to change it up."
"I think it's our hitting," leadoff man Dexter Fowler said when asked if maybe they were just facing great pitching. "We think we're the best of the best and the past few days we just haven't been doing that."
No, they haven't. It's not just the past few days, though. It's the entire playoffs.
Again, we'll exclude Bryant and Baez who have been sensational. Willson Contreras is also swinging a good bat (he's 5-10). That's where it stops.
Just look at some of these ugly slash lines in the 2016 playoffs for the other regulars:
Addison Russell : .042/.080/.042
Jason Heyward : .105/.150/.263
Dexter Fowler : .179/.233/.357
Ben Zobrist : .154/.185/.269
Hideous, but there's more.
Jorge Soler is 0-7 and hasn't hit anything hard for weeks (months?). Chris Coghlan and Albert Almora are 0-4. Montero hit the huge Game 1 grand slam, but otherwise he's 0-7 this postseason. David Ross also has a home run, but he's 0-8 in his other at-bats.
There's only so much Bryant (.357/.400/.607), Baez (.333/.357/.519) and Contreras in part time can do.
The Cubs need more from everyone else.
"We're not hitting the ball hard," manager Joe Maddon said. "They've pitched well. Obviously, I have no solid explanation. We've just got to keep working at it. We're just not hitting the ball well. We're doing the same kind of routines, the work is the same, the batting practice is the same, or the lack of it is the same, and we're just not getting the results right now. There is really no excuse. We just have to pick it up quickly."
This was a team that was second in the NL in runs scored this season. They were the top NL team in on-base percentage, fourth in doubles, fifth in home runs, fourth in slugging and second in OPS. Nine offensive players had an OPS+ north of 100 during the regular season, meaning they should be considered above-average hitters (and Baez wasn't one of them, by the way, as he was at 96). Rizzo, Zobrist and Fowler in particular were well above average and aren't performing. Russell had 21 homers and 95 RBI and he seems like he is totally lost at the plate right now.
In watching them play, it just seems so dire. The feel you get is an offense that is cooked.
Unless you ask the Cubs themselves.
No one even seemed worried. It didn't necessarily come off like arrogance as much as it did more of a calm confidence. One Cubs player even threw the "super-calm" label on the feeling in the locker room.
"We've done it all year, we're here for a reason," Bryant said. "Belief is very powerful and we all have that here."
"We've seen it before," Fowler said. "You go in ruts and then you score five or six runs.
"We'll be alright. It's gonna come. We know we can hit."
The main theme was that it's only a 2-1 deficit in a seven-game series. The Cubs aren't even facing elimination yet.
"Based on what we've done this year, sure, it's surprising," Bryant said of the offensive futility. "It's happening at the wrong time, obviously, but we've got more games to play, more times to get that confidence back and figure things out."
"We've got to find a way to hit those pitchers' pitches, but when you do get the mistakes, really take advantage of it. I think we can do a little more of that."
Maddon has confidence in his guys, too.
"Listen, I've got a lot of faith in our guys," he said. "It's a difficult moment to be in to come back out here on the first game here, two more left before we get to go home, and you have to fight through some pretty stringent adversity. But that's how this thing works sometimes. Again, from my perspective, there is nothing differently to do, except to really come out tomorrow with the right mental attitude, and that's our best weapon, I think."
The Cubs do have a few things working in their favor. First off, they really did seem pretty loose when viewing the rest of the series. Secondly, they haven't lost three straight games since early July. Third, they've been "embracing the target" since spring training and haven't faltered much. Now factor in the confidence they've exhibited in the face of the utterly offensive offensive results so far this postseason against the fact that regression to the mean can happen at any time and Game 4 seems like it could be the Cubs' day.
Of course, maybe they're just lost at the plate and will lose the next two games, going home for the winter with a gigantic disappointment despite winning 103 regular season games and then four of their first five playoff games.
After all, at some point confidence can only do so much.