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At halfway point, Cubs take stock, seek more

Under .500 81 games into season, players focused on adjustments, especially at plate
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CINCINNATI -- It's the halfway point of the season, the defending World Series champion Cubs are 40-41, and they are not happy about it.

"I think everybody knows [we're better than our record]," Ben Zobrist said after Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Reds, "but that being said, there's still this collective feeling of needing to change some things as a unit. We look forward to turning that thing around completely and heading in the other direction.

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CINCINNATI -- It's the halfway point of the season, the defending World Series champion Cubs are 40-41, and they are not happy about it.

"I think everybody knows [we're better than our record]," Ben Zobrist said after Saturday's 5-3 loss to the Reds, "but that being said, there's still this collective feeling of needing to change some things as a unit. We look forward to turning that thing around completely and heading in the other direction.

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"[Playing .500] is not good enough for us and we know that. We can't hang our heads about that. We have to stop looking at the standings, stop looking at what other teams are doing and play the game of baseball the way we know how to play it and make the necessary adjustments we need to make, too."

Zobrist, activated from the disabled list on Saturday, got an at-bat with two on and two outs in the eighth, but he grounded out. Missed opportunities on offense continued to plague the Cubs.

"We have to score more than three runs," manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just our inability to move the baseball in an RBI situation -- I've said it a thousand times."

The second inning was a perfect example. The Cubs had runners at first and third with nobody out, and Jackson Stephens, who was making his Major League debut for the Reds, fooled Javier Baez on a 76-mph slider, and then got an inning-ending double play when he fanned Albert Almora Jr., also on an offspeed pitch, and Addison Russell was thrown out trying to steal second by catcher Tucker Barnhart.

Video: CHC@CIN: Stephens fans Almora, Barnhart nabs Russell

"I was trying to keep a zero on there," Stephens said. "If I gave up one run, I was like, 'OK, get the next guy and we'll get out of this.' Tucker did a great job throwing him out after a strikeout. It was just bang-bang. I got excited. I was fired up. Just helping the team keep a zero on there, I just felt like it gave confidence for the rest of the team."

The Cubs haven't been feeling too cocky. They were 51-30 at the halfway mark a year ago, and have been waiting for key players to get healthy. Zobrist is one of them.

• As Zobrist returns, Heyward heads to rehab

"I talked to a few guys on the bench during the game today about getting runners over and runners in scoring position and things we need to do better as a team," Zobrist said. "I think the more we talk about that as a unit and a group and encourage the right path in how to go about that, everybody will be catching on with that and we'll do a better job of that."

The Cubs began the day next to last in the National League with runners in scoring position. With the injuries, Maddon has tweaked the lineup, and one bright spot has been Willson Contreras, who hit a two-run homer and a double batting fourth on Saturday. With Zobrist back and expected to hit behind Anthony Rizzo, Contreras will likely hit fifth.

Video: CHC@CIN: Contreras goes deep for a two-run shot

While the record is irksome, the Cubs -- and their fans -- need to take a deep breath.

"We get everybody healthy, everybody back out there, I'm very confident we'll start looking like we're supposed to look," Maddon said. "It's been primarily our inability to hit in moments. The starting pitching has been erratic also; I can't deny that. But if you can hit a little more consistently, you can cover that.

"We need to get everybody back offensively and get the lineup structured back like it's supposed to look and guys coming off the bench at appropriate times and not playing too often. For me, I'm very patient. The attitude is great, the effort is great, everything's great. We're just unable to move the baseball, especially with people in scoring position."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.

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