Cubs look to get pitching, offense in sync

May 4th, 2023

WASHINGTON -- The good news for the Cubs? Their already-clicking rotation is now nearly back to full strength, with the club planning to reinstate right-hander from the injured list to start Thursday’s series finale at Nationals Park. The bad news? Their offense has suddenly gone cold, leaving the team in a conundrum. Lately, the Cubs find themselves wasting excellent innings from their rotation and piling up frustrating defeats in winnable games. 

The latest example came Wednesday, when the Cubs received a typically effective outing from only to drop a 2-1 decision to the Nationals, their sixth loss in eight games. Much like Hayden Wesneski the night before, Stroman did little wrong over six innings of one-run ball, weathering a lack of run support before Washington broke through against Chicago’s bullpen in the seventh inning. The offense, meanwhile, watched several potential rallies dissolve against Nationals rookie Jake Irvin -- in his MLB debut -- and four others, including a two-on, no-out opportunity squandered in the ninth. 

“We pitched really well, but came up a little bit short, again,” manager David Ross said. “Just offensively, couldn't get anything going. The double plays killed us, kind of this whole road trip. But Stro’ threw great.”

Said Trey Mancini: “[Lately] we haven't gotten that big hit, but I think as an offense the whole year in general, we've done a pretty good job with runners in scoring position. It's going to happen sometimes, but obviously, it's a little tougher when it happens a few games in a row. Especially with the way our pitchers have been throwing, keeping us in these games as an offense. You want to pick them up and do what you can to help us win, and we all know that.”

Mancini’s assessment is spot on. The Cubs were quite good at cashing in offensively in the early going; their .283 average with runners in scoring position still ranks sixth best in the Majors. Their 153 runs scored rank 10th, their .345 OBP second, their .442 slugging percentage sixth. But they’ve now gone 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position the past two nights and 9-for-59 in those situations in their past eight games. Their record has fallen from 13-9 to 15-15 during this difficult stretch. 

“The ball has been on the ground a lot,” Ross said. “It seems like we can’t seem to get the ball in the air, get the ball to fall, with two outs. Those are two things we did really well prior to this road trip. That’s probably the big-picture culprit. There are times here and there where you can look back on a couple scenarios and we could’ve been more patient, but we’ve been aggressive all year. It’s an aggressive ballclub. Guys are having really good at-bats. We’re just not getting things to fall right now.”

Time will tell if this is a blip or a concerning early-season trend for the Cubs, whose starters have pitched to a 2.72 ERA over their last 20 outings. The team is only 9-11 in those games.

Getting Taillon back from the left groin strain that’s sidelined him since April 15 makes the rotation even more formidable, especially with budding ace Justin Steele and Stroman pitching about as well as anybody right now. Stroman owns a 2.44 ERA over his last 23 starts dating back to last season, which trails only Zac Gallen, Clayton Kershaw, Max Fried, Brandon Woodruff and Julio Urías among NL starters in that span.

If the Cubs hit like they did early on and pitch like they are now, they are confident they can be a force to be reckoned with. But they’ve spent this road trip working to get those two parts in sync.

“Sometimes it's just baseball, to be honest,” Stroman said. “It's hard to kind of nitpick and say what it is. There could be a stretch where we win five, six close games in a row down the road. It's a long season. We just need to make sure we stay confident each and every day. I think that's the key.”