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7th heaven: Rally ends Cubs’ scoreless streak

@MLBastian
September 2, 2019

CHICAGO -- The cork finally popped for the Cubs’ offense on Monday afternoon. After more than two days of an offensive drought, and the pressure building for the lineup its groove again, Chicago poured out a five-run seventh inning against the Mariners on Labor Day afternoon. Third-base coach Brian Butterfield

CHICAGO -- The cork finally popped for the Cubs’ offense on Monday afternoon. After more than two days of an offensive drought, and the pressure building for the lineup its groove again, Chicago poured out a five-run seventh inning against the Mariners on Labor Day afternoon.

Third-base coach Brian Butterfield spun his right arm repeatedly, waving a stream of runners home after his two-day respite. The fans inside Wrigley Field erupted, replacing recent groans with raucous cheers, and the Cubs picked up a 5-1 win that was much-needed in the wake of the previous 48 hours.

Box score

"We needed the breakthrough," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Hopefully that'll relax everybody."

When Anthony Rizzo singled off Seattle lefty Taylor Guilbeau, bringing Jason Heyward home from second base in the seventh, it ended a 24-inning scoreless streak for the Cubs. It also eliminated the possibility that Chicago would suffer three consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1992.

The win, which began with another strong six-inning performance by Kyle Hendricks, also helped the Cubs hold their ground in the National League Central, where the Cardinals still hold a three-game lead over the North Siders. Chicago also remains in control of the NL's second Wild Card spot.

Kyle Schwarber was asked if he was beginning to wonder when the Cubs would score again.

"I wouldn't say 'when,'" Schwarber said. "With this club, I think anything can happen. I think we all know what we've got in here."

Even though the past two games were shutout losses, both Maddon and the players insisted that bad luck plagued both defeats. To that point, the Cubs' expected rates for batting average (.259), slugging percentage (.345) and wOBA (.315) were well north of the results (.161 average, .177 slugging and .217 wOBA), per Statcast.

Maddon said a prolonged scoring drought like the Cubs experienced can become a mental hurdle for the hitters.

“When you run into those zero things, man,” Maddon said, “it's like an extra-inning game where you can't score. It just gets in your head a bit.”

The Cubs finally had a little luck go their way two batters after Rizzo's game-tying single.

Schwarber chopped a pitch up the first-base line, where it struck the bag and bounced high into right field. The awkward hop of Schwarber’s hit resulted in a lucky three-run triple. The five-run inning came after the Cubs managed five runs total in their previous 31 innings.

As the baseball was headed up the line, Maddon said bench coach Mark Loretta was shouting from the dugout.

"Lo yells out, 'Hit the bag!'" Maddon said. "And of course, it did. We needed something like that to get us rolling in the right direction. Hopefully that does, but again, I'm not going to proclaim anything. We just won the game today."

And one game does not erase the inconsistencies of an entire season.

One of the biggest issues all year has been with making contact, and that continued against Seattle. Lefty Justus Sheffield generated 21 of the 31 swinging strikes against the Cubs on Monday. That is a 20.7 percent swinging-strike rate for a Chicago team that entered the day with the highest rate in the National League.

According to Fangraphs, which has contact rate data going back to 2002, the Cubs' 73.6 percent contact rate is the second-lowest single-season showing on record, entering Monday.

"That's the one that we've still got to get better at, man," Maddon said. "That's the separator right there."

After six shutout innings to start the afternoon, there were positive moments within Chicago's one furious rally. Heyward drew a leadoff walk and stole second. Kris Bryant worked a one-out walk shortly thereafter. Both Rizzo and Schwarber delivered their run-scoring hits on two-strike counts.

The Cubs have the next four weeks to try to gain more consistency in their offensive approach before a possible postseason run.

"We just have to give ourselves opportunities to do what we did today," Rizzo said. "Things you're not going to see in the box score that go a long way."

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.