CHICAGO -- The Cubs kicked off a fresh homestand at Wrigley Field on Tuesday after a trying 2-7 road trip that saw them slip a season-low six games under .500.
Since improving to 12-7 behind Drew Smyly’s near-perfect-game a month ago, the Cubs are 8-19, entering Tuesday. If you want to look from an optimistic standpoint, they entered the day 4 1/2 games back in the NL Central, thanks to the rest of the division’s struggles.
Of course, for a team that entered 2023 with aspirations of competing for a postseason spot, the expectations were higher than that.
“Certainly, it's great that no one's running away with the division,” team president Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “But ultimately, the standard has to be high, and you have to build a team that can win at every level. You can take some solace in [being 4 1/2 back], but ultimately, it doesn't make me feel better about our record or where we are.”
Here are four other takeaways from Hoyer’s media session.
1. Bullpen blues
The Cubs had success in recent years signing low-cost free agent relievers who wound up being the backbone of their bullpen. This past winter, they signed Michael Fulmer and Brad Boxberger, among others, but the ‘pen has struggled more than any other group on the roster thus far. It entered the day 24th in MLB with a 4.50 ERA.
“We've been building bullpens that way for a while,” Hoyer said. “This year, that hasn't worked yet, and that's on me. I think that's put [David Ross] in a tough spot. That hasn’t lined up the way we kind of expected it to. We'll get there. I think we have a lot of power arms in the Minors and in the organization, and we're gonna get there. But that area that we’ve had a lot of success for a while, it hasn't been an area of success this year. I think that's been hard on Rossy, and that's on me.”
2. High-leverage shortcomings
The Cubs’ extended struggles in recent weeks go beyond the bullpen. They’ve come up short too often offensively in leverage spots. Here’s where they ranked in a few categories with runners in scoring position in May, entering Tuesday:
AVG: .213 (26th)
OBP: .318 (18th)
SLG: .378 (19th)
wRC+: 89 (20th)
“We've been really poor in high-leverage situations, both from a pitching standpoint and from a hitting standpoint,” Hoyer said. “And most of those situations are oftentimes in situations late in games. We've struggled to execute in those situations. That's the reason that our record isn't flipped or even better. We just have to do better as a team in those situations. I think we will.”
3. The Morel decision
There has been a lot of conversation around whether Christopher Morel should have been on the Cubs’ roster sooner. Morel is hitting home runs at a historic clip, with nine in 12 games since being called up from Triple-A Iowa this month, including becoming the first Cub to homer in five straight games since Sammy Sosa in 1998.
Does Hoyer regret not calling him up sooner?
“Certainly, you can look at it and say, 'Boy, I wish we had those home runs from Iowa here,'" Hoyer said. "Or you could say the reason he hit the home runs here [was] because he got on a roll in Iowa, getting confident and playing every day. We didn't want to bring him up to not play every day. So, with both [Matt] Mervis and with Morel, I think you can look at it that way, but I also think letting these guys play every day in Iowa, getting on a roll I think certainly helped them.”
4. Taillon’s troubles
Jameson Taillon was the Cubs’ top starting pitcher target over the winter, and the start to his Chicago tenure has been rough. He has an 8.10 ERA in seven starts.
The right-hander has a track record of success in the big leagues, however, and part of his troubles may be a matter of trying too hard to impress on a new team, Hoyer said.
“He wants to live up to his contract, he wants to impress the fans, and I think that's a challenge,” Hoyer said. “We've seen it so many times with different guys. [Craig] Kimbrel struggled when he first got here; was awesome after that. [Yu] Darvish struggled when I first got here; almost won a Cy Young. So, I'm not the least bit worried. Not worried, and also now putting in the time to really figure out exactly what we can do for him. We're spending all that time, and I think we'll get there hopefully really quickly.”