Cubs waiting on 'firepower' to give them a spark

July 3rd, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- At the start of the Cubs’ four-game series at PNC Park this week, general manager Jed Hoyer laid out a tentative plan on Monday of what the team could look to add as the Trade Deadline approaches -- offensive depth, maybe a left-handed reliever. But he also cautioned, “I think we haven’t played well enough to rule things out.”

Case in point: After a lopsided defeat on Monday, the Cubs continued their road woes with a 5-1, rain-lengthened loss to the Pirates on Tuesday, marking the sixth consecutive road series they’ve failed to win.

They got a boost to their rotation with ’ return from the injured list, as he pitched three innings of two-run ball before a two-hour, five-minute rain delay. The veteran anchor was on a pitch count, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he’d have sent Hendricks out for just one more inning, if that.

But even after a pregame midseason meeting, during which the Cubs tried to find “solutions” to their problems, some of the same issues cropped up for the club.

, who has been the offensive stronghold of late, was picked off at first for the third out in the second. A runner didn’t reach scoring position until the eighth, and only one moved from scoring position to home. , whom Hoyer said is not a “prototypical left-on-left guy,” allowed a three-run homer to Adam Frazier that Maddon said “really separated the game.”

They tried everything at the plate. even laid down a bunt on a 1-1 count in the top of the seventh, trying to spark any offense. But little was doing at the plate for the long haul. The team went a combined 6-for-31, with four of the hits coming in the eighth and ninth innings before they finally broke through for a run off Pirates flamethrower Felipe Vazquez

“As a group, I feel like we’re a little bit less than the sum of the parts because of situational hitting,” Hoyer said. “I think the good thing is that if we get some of that stuff figured out and get there, we have the firepower.”

Few think the answer to the issues can be made with micromanagement, but Maddon said he’s willing to tweak his approach with the lineup to squeeze out the timely hits the club has struggled to produce lately.

“I’m considering different things,” he said. “… I try to really emphasize the consistency approach about it, but I may just turn the names around a little bit.”

Hendricks senses somewhat of a downward trend at the moment, but he believes it’s on the pitchers to spur a turnaround by avoiding the “big innings” and making the “big pitches.”

“It’s not concern necessarily, but we’re focused and we know we need to play better baseball,” he said. “I think it starts on the mound, always. We have kind of the control with the ball in our hands.”

No matter which part of the game one may emphasize as the most crucial to success, the overall numbers the Cubs have put up lately speak for themselves -- 16-25 on the road, 8-14 in their past 22 games. There’s no reason to panic, necessarily. The team sits in second place in the National League Central, just a game back of the Brewers.

But in a division separated by just 5 1/2 games between its first- and last-place teams, finding a stride and creating some distance would help clear up where the Cubs fall in the “buyer or seller” picture this July.

“It’s been a frustrating 40-50 games,” Hoyer said, “and in baseball, you’re always trying to evaluate what is sort of the random ups and downs of a long season vs. what is legitimate concern and what needs to be addressed.

“So I think we’ll look at everything.”