The Rundown: Cubs Slumping Badly, Tensions Escalate After Contreras Hit Again, Colorado Awarded 2021 All-Star Game

The Cubs were one-hit in their 4-0 loss to the Brewers last night and, to a man, looked lost at the plate. Is there any wonder that there’s no sense of urgency to extend any of the core? Through five games the team is struggling to hit .135 (not a typo). In last year’s shortened season, they hit .220, concluding in disappointing fashion by scoring just one run in their two-game postseason sweep at the hands of the Marlins.

The Cubs will of course continue to “trust the process,” but said process is now entering its fourth year and I’m wondering why anybody would put so much faith in something that is obviously failing. Not to pile on, but Chicago has yet to face a bona fide ace and you’ve probably noticed that at-bats are getting progressively uglier. That’s a natural byproduct of hitters’ pressing, but that just means they’re as concerned as we are.

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David Ross still has faith in his hitters, but Joc Pederson has yet to register a hit in 16 plate appearances and Ian Happ, David Bote, Willson Contreras, and Anthony Rizzo have just five hits combined. The first baseman mentioned yesterday — again — that he has no interest in anything Jed Hoyer has to say regarding a potential extension, which is not necessarily an optimal negotiating strategy if you’re not currently helping the team.

When last night’s game ended, the Cubs’ 1-for-25 showing dropped their overall batting average to an MLB-low .132, with a .265 OBP, .316 SLG and 65 wRC+ to boot. They’ve struck out in 28.6% of their plate appearances and the best starter they’ve faced is Chad Kuhl of the Pirates, a career league-average pitcher. Kris Bryant, who had the team’s only hit last night, is Chicago’s lone bright spot, leading the team with a quietly robust 168 OPS+ so far.

We keep saying believing that these guys will start hitting at some point and that they’re too good to continue slumping, but combined with last year’s showing, the Cubs are in an extended offensive funk and have provided little hope that they’ll bust out. Their combined regression since 2017 is extraordinary and incomparable, and the core that helped Chicago break its championship drought in 2016 is on the verge of writing an entirely different legacy. It’s almost to the point that if things do not turn around, we’ll start wondering if Hoyer will have to sell low at the trade deadline.

Cubs News & Notes

  • Trevor Williams was dominating through most of his first start with the Cubs, and his wipeout sinker was a big reason for his success.
  • Adbert Alzolay had a rough first inning last night but settled down nicely after. It wasn’t a quality start by definition, but he did give himself a nice foundation to build upon.
  • Contreras was hit by a pitch from Brad Boxberger in the 9th inning of last night’s game, the second consecutive night he was hit. This time the benches emptied, though no fights ensued and no players were ejected.
  • I get the Milwaukee television feed and Tim Dillard claimed that the book on the Cubs is to work consistently up and in, adding that there is no intent because it’s early in the season and command is not yet where it needs to be.
  • When the Cubs spoke about hybrid roles for some of their pitchers, they probably had Alec Mills in mind. The versatile righty can start, work long or short relief, and he even earned a save Monday night.
  • Hall of Fame starter Fergie Jenkins will be honored with a statue outside Wrigley Field, which could be unveiled as early as next year.
  • Extension talks with the Chicago’s pending free agents are being framed by baseball’s impending labor war.
  • Though Rizzo reiterated he has no interest in negotiating now that the season has started, Javier Báez continues to hold out hope that something can be worked out with his contract before the season ends.
  • The extension that Francisco Lindor signed with the Mets may put more pressure on the Cubs than Báez.
  • We’re just a week into the season, but some trends, good and bad, are starting to develop and CI’s Ryan Thomure is on top of them in his weekly Tuesday Trends feature.

Odds & Sods

Angel Hernandez continues to be the scourge of strike-calling, and a great case for robotic umpires and automated strike zones.

How About That!

The legend of Rule 5 pick up Akil Baddoo continues to grow. The outfielder led the Tigers to a win over the Twins with a walk-off, 10th inning single.

Padres shortstop Fernando Tatís, Jr. will not need surgery after suffering a partially dislocated left shoulder Monday. After receiving an MRI Tuesday, he was put on the 10-day IL, though there is no timeline for his return.

Pirates third baseman Phillip Evans, forced into mop-up relief role in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to the Reds, mowed down Cincinnati hitters with a five-pitch 1-2-3 inning. He also hit a home run earlier in the game.

The A’s fell to 0-6 after losing (again) to the Dodgers. Clayton Kershaw had eight K’s in a start that looked almost vintage for him, Mookie Betts hit his first home run of the year, and Oakland fell to its worst start to a season since 1916.

If baseball wants to improve fan interest and make the game more exciting, one theory suggests finding ways to curb home run and strikeout rates so that more balls are put into play.

The Nationals are baseball’s only remaining undefeated team though they’ve played just one game.

The Cardinals will open their home schedule on Thursday with no food and amenities vendors working the stands.

A poll of league executives believes the Royals will be the surprise team of 2021 and that Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich will stage the game’s best comeback season. Rizzo received three votes, though Bryant was quite curiously not mentioned.

This year’s All-Star Game, which was taken away from Atlanta by the league, has been awarded to Colorado. The city of Denver, with considerable help from the league, will have 14 weeks to finalize all event planning, including non-game festivities and the annual minor league draft.

Tuesday’s Three Stars

  1. Tyler Naquin – The Reds left fielder had a career night, going 3-for-4 with two homers and seven RBI in Cincinnati’s 14-1 thrashing of the Pirates.
  2. Ronald Acuña Jr. – The Braves lost to the Nationals and are still winless on the season, but Acuña had a stellar game, going 2-for-5 with two big flies and three RBI.
  3. Gerrit Cole – The Yankees ace struck out 13 batters in seven scoreless innings en route to a 7–2 win over the Orioles.

Extra Innings

Yermin Mercedes is still the rage on Chicago’s South Side, but José Abreu continues to lead the White Sox in big hits and is off to a great start toward earning a repeat MVP award. By the way, Mercedes and Abreu have combined for 18 hits and 15 RBI. As a team, the Cubs have 18 hits and 17 RBI.

They Said It

  • “If this [slump] happened in the middle of the season, you wouldn’t blink. But when it happens early on, it just magnifies it. That’s part of sticking with the process.” – Ian Happ
  • “The guys went up there and battled.” – David Ross
  • “I think [Willson Contreras] just took exception to getting hit in the head yesterday, and then up around the shoulder, elbow area. It’s just scary right now. At some point, you have to be better. You can’t just continue to try to pitch in and hit guys. You’ve got to be better.” – Ross

Wednesday Walk Up Song

Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits – We know too well that the Cubs are a streaky team when it comes to hitting. They slump en masse, and similarly break out. They need that break out game right quick.

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