Lineup struggles continue for Cubs
Rizzo and Co. hope to salvage a win on Sunday (Mark Rebilas - USA Today Sports)

Lineup struggles continue for Cubs

by - Staff Writer -

After another drubbing at the hands of the White Sox, the Cubs fans wonder if the panic button deserves a kick start.

There weren't many who believed the Cubs could sustain their historically fast start, but after losing seven of their last ten, it may be time to evaluate which of the two spectrums the Cubs are closer too.

Over the last ten days or so, the Cubs have looked eerily similar to the team that fell apart late last season. Some of the issues that led to the end of the Joe Maddon era included too much dependency on the home run ball, far too many swings and misses, lack of production at the top of the order, and a shaky bullpen.

The Cubs currently lead the MLB in strikeout rate, with no player struggling more than Kris Bryant.

Bryant has missed time this year with a tight back, a sore left elbow, and a stomach issue, and now a wrist/ring finger injury has struggled to get his bat going. Aside from his two home runs, Bryant is hitting just .177 with a career-low .594 OPS. Not far behind him is Javier Baez, who has struck out 34 times in 93 at-bats.

"I'm not trying to suck, Baez said after Saturday's loss. "I'm not trying to struggle or anything. I am just trying to get better every day, learn something every day. I am just going to come back the next day and work hard and try to learn something better."

Speaking of strikeouts, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber's 65 strikeouts in 173 at-bats is good for over a third of their at-bats ending in Ks.

Ian Happ and Anthony Rizzo have carried their weight thus far, but the Cubs need more than that to sustain they're hot start and take control of the NL Central.

"I just think you've got a lot of guys searching a little bit right now and not getting the results they'd like," Rizzo said Saturday. "It happens to be a lot of us at the same time. We are all grinding, and we are grinding together."

The Cubs offense has found its success off the long ball and the walk. If the walks are not coming, the Cubs have plenty of players who swing for the fence, and if the long ball is missing in ac, the Cubs can ride walks to execute some small ball.

The Northsiders have excelled at seeing a lot of pitches, making the starters work, forcing the starters out of the games, and beating up on their bullpen.

That plan was especially effective on the early going, but the Cubs have struggled against the bullpens of Milwaukee and the White Sox to produce.

And for a team that is dependent on the long ball, the Cubs haven't hit one since game one of Wednesday's doubleheader against St. Louis. The White Sox are showing the Cubs that they do not have the type of lineup that can afford to sink or swim with the home run, while the team across town certainly can. Of the 17 runs the White Sox have scored in their thumping of the Cubs, all 17 have come off the longball.

This skid for the Cubs shows the front office that the Cubs are not as good as they looked early, but I also don't believe they're this bad. It's challenging when your leadoff hitter and one of your best players in Kris Bryant is battling an injury, your 3-5 in the order of Baez, Schwarber, Contreras striking out nearly 50 percent of the time, 40 percent of your expected opening day starting rotation on the shelf and not much to count on in the bullpen.

It is reasonable to expect that a lot of those scuffling Cubs get right soon, and the injured ones get healthy — but if that does not happen rather quickly, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer will have some interesting decisions to make come trade deadline time, which is only eight days away.

The Cubs have the same needs as last year, a left-hander in the bullpen, and some contact bats that can hit lefties — whether or not they can afford to take on salary and find a willing team to sell in such an uncertain season is unknown.

Some believe the first-place Cubs could turn into sellers in the next eight days, but Theo has done crazier things.

The bottom line is if the Cubs want to snap this slump, the offense needs to lead the way.

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