I will continue to shout from the mountaintops that David Ross is far from the biggest anchor weighing the Cubs down, but his insistence on rolling out uncompetitive lineups isn’t helping matters. Batting Miles Mastrobuoni in the leadoff spot for the second time makes the manager look like he’s George Costanza at Play Now just doing whatever he can to get fired. Though the utilityman did pick up a hit to improve his OPS to .467, his wRC+ dropped a point to 38 through 59 plate appearances.
What’s really wild is that Mastrobuoni’s numbers are better than two other hitters in Saturday’s lineup, only one of whom has an argument to be around for other reasons. Tucker Barnhart has struggled at the plate this season, but his work with the pitching staff has been applauded at every turn and keeps him producing at a replacement level. Edwin Ríos, on the other hand, served as the designated hitter despite his 34 wRC+ and .449 OPS.
Shouldn’t a designated hitter actually, you know, hit?
Ross had Mastrobuoni in the leadoff spot in order to alternate left- and right-handed batters across the top four, but then he batted four lefties at the bottom of the order. An infield single in the top of the 3rd was the only contribution from a group that ended up going 1-for-20 with nine strikeouts against Yu Darvish and two relievers, not exactly the kind of production you need to play competitive baseball.
And this wasn’t just a one-game thing, either. If we go back to May 26 against the Reds and reverse-split righty Hunter Greene, Ross’s insistence on stacking lefties put the Cubs in a hole before they even took the field. That day’s lineup featured five left-handed bats that combined to go 1-for-15 with six Ks (Mastrobuoni again had the hit), then Ríos went 0-for-1 with a strikeout when he subbed in at third late in the game.
Three days later, the Cubs won in spite of a very questionable lineup when Marcus Stroman one-hit the Rays in a complete game shutout. This was the first time we saw Mastrobuoni batting No. 1 and the results offered absolutely no reason to try the experiment again. Cubs lefties were 0-for-15 with eight strikeouts, though Mike Tauchman did have the game-winning RBI with a sac fly.
The series finale against the Rays provides another example, albeit one that was slightly less bleak than those above. Cubs lefties went 2-for-13 with two RBI, two walks, and five strikeouts against big right-hander Zach Eflin and four relievers. Though righty batters were just 4-for-18 with one RBI and one walk, they only struck out four times.
This isn’t strictly a matchup issue because it’s not as simple as looking at splits or handedness and saying a lineup card should be made out a certain way. The Greene game is definitely one of those in my mind because he’s always handled left-handed hitters better, but Darvish pitches to traditional splits. Both Eflin and rookie Taj Bradley are posting reverse splits this season after getting more standard results previously, so the argument can be made that it’s still best to go with the bigger samples.
Then there’s the matter of advanced data the Cubs possess that those of us sitting at home can’t suss out even through the information available on the best public sites. While I still believe Ross isn’t doing a very good job of leveraging potential advantages in some of these matchups, I am open to the idea that there’s a method to the madness…to an extent. Thing is, data without context is useless.
Even if lefties hit a certain pitcher well in general, that doesn’t mean the specific lefty batters on the Cubs roster are going to follow suit. With full awareness that I’ve cherry-picked some recent games, going 4-for-63 (.063) with 28 strikeouts is a pretty good sign that stacking left-handed bats — particularly where there are 3-4 filling the bottom of the order — isn’t just yielding poor results in a small sample. It’s clear at this point that this is a bad process.
Cubs lefty batters have gone 1-for-35 with 17 strikeouts when Mastrobuoni is the leadoff hitter, and the worst part is that pretty much everyone saw it coming. That the Cubs managed to win the first of those experiments was a fluke that required an extraordinary pitching effort, so maybe wearing an L on Saturday will be enough to put an end to the nonsense. Not that Ross has a ton of other options given the depth of his roster.
Therein lies the problem for a Cubs team that has to win around the margins in order to be successful this season. They were doing that in April, but these days it seems like they can’t play with any sort of consistency. Thus we’re left with a chicken-egg conundrum of whether it’s a shallow roster forcing Ross into tough spots or the manager hamstringing his team’s chances with bad decisions. The reality is that it’s a lot of both, though decisions look a lot smarter when players execute.
I’m not sure there’s much else to say about this and I don’t know if I’ve led us to any particular destination after so much mental meandering. All I know is that I’m going to lose my shit if Manager David rolls out another of these lefty-heavy lineups and the Cubs once more fail to do anything offensively. If they somehow explode for 10 runs, however, I’ll just Homer Simpson myself into the bushes.