ANAHEIM -- The Cubs’ offense is in the kind of prolonged lull that can start to toy with the hitters’ focus. It can be easy to start thinking about the impact stacked losses might have on the Trade Deadline approach, or get caught up in how much ground needs to be made up in the standings.
That is a mental trap the North Siders need to avoid.
“A big part within this that I'm figuring out for myself, too,” Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner said, “is not biting off more than you can chew.”
A large part of the issue has been the lineup, which operated as one of baseball’s best units for the first few weeks of April but has slumped over the past several weeks. The Cubs are now 10 games below the break-even mark (26-36) and trying to focus on individual plans on a game-by-game basis, rather than become consumed by the required comeback.
“I think really good groups,” Hoerner said, “whether it's baseball or any kind of group working together, it's made up of people that all do their own job really well, right? I've gotten caught up in times of thinking about things that I really have no control of.
“Obviously, it can come from a good place, but if it's not me taking care of my four or five at-bats, playing good defense and playing the game hard -- that's the biggest way that I can contribute.
“And you continue to talk the game and stay positive and have good conversations. But it really comes down to all of us doing our own specific things that we can control well.”
Slicing Chicago’s season into two parts offers a look into how the offensive production has collapsed of late:
First 31 games: The Cubs hit .270/.341/.436 as a group with a 21.5% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate. The lineup averaged 5.0 runs per game and hit .278 with runners in scoring position. In 1,196 plate appearances, the Cubs had 40 homers, 47 doubles, 29 steals and 156 runs scored.
Next 31 games: The Cubs hit .219/.309/.354 as a unit with a 29.6% strikeout rate and a 10.9% walk rate. The offense posted 3.5 runs per game with a .227 showing with RISP. In 1,161 plate appearances, Chicago has 30 homers, 43 doubles, 17 stolen bases and 108 runs scored.
Cubs manager David Ross said he did not “want to take a positive and turn it into a negative” when it came to the increased walk rate. That said, Ross added that taking some risks with more aggressive swings in certain counts could benefit some of the hitters.
In Thursday’s loss, as an example, Seiya Suzuki adopted a more aggressive approach at the plate, displaying more “intent,” as Ross phrased it. The Cubs right fielder finished with a double and a single -- the latter coming on a first-pitch swing in the sixth inning. Overall, the Cubs struck out 12 times, drew two walks and squandered a quality start from Drew Smyly.
“Without good results, and with the group not performing at a high level,” Hoerner said, “the tendency in baseball, I think, is for batters to be late and to play the game a little more careful. I think that's something even the best players in the world fall into.”
Before Thursday’s game, Ross noted that the Cubs lead the Majors in foul-ball rate. According to Statcast, Chicago’s offense entered the night with 40.2% of all swings resulting in a foul -- indeed the highest mark in baseball.
The Cubs ranked 25th in MLB in swing rate on the first pitch (28.2%) and last in average on first-pitch swings (.277), per Statcast. Chicago was also third best in walk rate (10.0%) and tops in baseball in pitches per plate appearances (4.12), entering Thursday.
Those numbers give a glimpse into how the Cubs’ attempt to balance patience and aggressiveness has often led to being caught in-between.
“As a whole, we've got to be a little bit more accountable to our at-bats,” Ross said. “I don't have the answer sitting in my seat. I think just as a collective we've just got to produce some more runs, find a way to produce runs. Our pitchers have thrown good enough to win baseball games.”