CINCINNATI -- Joe Maddon is not prone to pushing panic buttons, so he was not about to do that after only five games. But the offensive inconsistencies that were on the to-fix list during Spring Training -- and which prompted the hiring of batting coach Chili Davis -- have crept up again.
On Monday afternoon, the Cubs couldn't break through against Reds rookie Tyler Mahle, who threw six sensational innings in a 1-0 win at Great American Ball Park.
Cubs batters fanned 11 times on Monday and have struck out 58 times through their first five games, a new National League record. The previous high of 57 strikeouts through five games was set by the 2009 Washington Nationals.
It's the first time the Cubs have been shut out in consecutive games since May 26-27 last season at Dodger Stadium.
"We're going to be a really good offensive club," Maddon said. "This is what is going on now."
It was the continuation of an unnerving trend for the Cubs, who hit .253 with runners in scoring position last season, fifth from the bottom in the National League. Through five games this season, they are 7-for-51 with runners in scoring position, for a .137 average.
"We have to do a better job moving the baseball," Maddon said. "We talked about it all camp."
The deciding run crossed against Chicago starter Tyler Chatwood in the fourth inning, when Eugenio Suarez came home on an Adam Duvall groundout. Chatwood, who was making his Cubs debut, threw nearly as many balls (43) as strikes (49) and walked six. Still, he gave up just one earned run and four hits with four strikeouts and kept his team in the game.
"I was good at getting out of traffic," Chatwood said. "I created a lot of that. I thought my stuff was really good today. I just need to trust it and try not to be too fine too early. I can build off this for the next time."
Mahle had plenty to do with the Cubs' offensive struggles on Monday.
He allowed one hit with two walks and struck out seven as he threw 86 pitches and forced Cubs batters out of their comfort zone throughout his six innings.
"That's what happens when you locate fastballs," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "Your breaking stuff plays. You throw enough breaking balls and changeups in the strike zone and you're able to command the fastball like he does. It makes hitters expand their strike zone."
The Reds' bullpen protected the narrow lead, with Jared Hughes getting things started with a scoreless seventh. Lefty Wandy Peralta then struck out his first two batters in the top of the eighth before a walk and a single had manager Bryan Price summoning closer Raisel Iglesias for a four-out save. Iglesias walked Kristopher Bryant on four pitches but escaped by striking out Anthony Rizzo on a two-seamer up and away.
"We're not going to ride the rollercoaster as hard as everyone else outside," Rizzo said. "We have a good group. If you look at back of the bubblegum card, it kind of speaks for itself. The more you get in those situations, the better off you are."
Rizzo is now 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position, with two strikeouts. He's batting .130 overall, with six strikeouts in 23 at-bats.
"He's like everybody else -- he's frustrated," Maddon said.
The Cubs scored 20 runs in the four games last weekend in Miami, but half of those came during Saturday's 10-6, 10-inning win. They managed just one run in a 17-inning loss on Friday. They stranded 42 runners while batting .149 with runners in scoring position in the series, notching just seven hits in 47 at-bats in those situations.
"At the end of the day, it's on us," Jason Heyward said. "Hitting coaches can talk to us until they are blue in the face, and if we don't pick it up and apply it the right way -- his job is only that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Suarez sets up run: It was a scoreless game when Suarez led off the Cincinnati half of the fourth inning by driving a ball over the head of center fielder Ian Happ. The ball went to the wall and Suarez motored to third base for a triple. On a soft groundball from Duvall, Suarez was able to score the game's lone run, as the only play third baseman Bryant had was to first base.
Cubs miss big chance: When Bryant walked on four pitches against Iglesias, it opened the door for the Cubs to break the game open. Rizzo fouled off a 96-mph, 2-2 pitch and then looked at ball two. Iglesias came back with a 95-mph fastball that Rizzo chased up and away for strike three that ended the threat.
"You can't be too frustrated," Rizzo said "You're up there battling. If you punch out, you punch out. You go up there with a plan. Their pitcher made good pitches."
Jonathan Lester is looking to rebound after lasting just 3 1/3 innings on Opening Day in Miami. Lester allowed four runs (three earned) and 10 baserunners on Thursday. He is 5-1 vs. Cincinnati in his career with a 4.27 ERA in 13 starts. He has a 3.66 career ERA in six starts at Great American Ball Park.
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