Tonight, I’ll be at Wrigley Field for the Cubs’ second to last regular season game against the Milwaukee Brewers, and (frustratingly), it’s a big one. Indeed, there’s a chance the Cubs can wake up tomorrow without sole possession of first place, but with a chance to fall into second for the first time in 56 days.
Of course, Theo Epstein, Joe Maddon, and company have done all they could to prevent against that, including trotting out a lineup full of left-handers to exploit Jhoulys Chacin’s biggest weakness. But will it really matter?
Obviously, playing to the strengths of your own club and the weaknesses of the opposing starter is always wise, but lately, splits (or even previously fruitful matchups) haven’t seemed to matter. Instead, it feels like the same 4-5 guys are producing every night, while the rest of the lineup just sorta tags along for the ride.
But don’t take my word for it, even Joe Maddon has recognized that the top of his order has been carrying all the weight lately: “After it gets past four/five, it really falls off a cliff a bit,” Maddon said via ESPN. “We really have to get the bottom part playing.”
Those are some sobering words to hear from a manager, especially as a fan of a team with more freakin’ position players (and, thus, hitting options to input here or there) than any team could possibly account for. But here we are.
With that said, while that sure seems to be true (and I don’t doubt Joe Maddon’s accuracy on this point), I want to see just how bad they’re doing for myself. So let’s split up the regulars into two groups – top of the order types, and second-half-of-the-lineup types – and go back to the All-Star break to see how bad it’s really been.
Top of Order Guys (Since ASB):
- Murphy (180 PAs): 131 wRC+
- Rizzo (214 PAs): 177 wRC+
- Baez (200 PAs): 129 wRC+
- Zobrist (155 PAs): 151 wRC+
- Bryant (58 PAs): 99 wRC+
- Heyward (146 PAs): 85 wRC+
Now, obviously there are some fairly important distinctions to make here. For example, Daniel Murphy didn’t join the Cubs until August 22nd, Kris Bryant has a small sample size and weak number, and Jason Heyward is clearly below average. HOWEVER, in his time with the Cubs, Murphy has a perfectly solid 120 wRC+, Bryant has posted a 106 wRC+ since returning from his injury (and is no one’s idea of an easy out, even when he’s struggling), and Jason Heyward hasn’t been on the field since August 30th, so I don’t even think he was part of the calculus in Maddon’s comments.
In other words, the top of order has been KICKIN’ IT since the All-Star break, and that’s especially true when you can say Kris Bryant has been your worst hitter. Now let’s take a look at the typical middle-to-bottom of the order guys:
Bottom of Order Guys (Since ASB):
- Schwarber (157 PAs): 84 wRC+
- Happ (141 PAs): 74 wRC+
- Almora (140 PAs): 53 wRC+
- Contreras (154 PAs): 74 wRC+
- Bote (110 PAs): 86 wRC+
- Russell (112 PAs): 32 wRC+
- Caratini (70 PAs): 60 wRC+
Listen, I understand that the top of the order is inherently going to be better than the bottom of the order, because you want your best hitters to get as many chances as possible. But while rookies like David Bote and backup catchers like Victor Caratini may have an excuse for their poor offensive showing over such a long period of time, the Cubs are really getting crushed by Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Albert Almora, Willson Contreras, and Addison Russell ALL slumping about as bad as you can at the same time.
There are versions where this many guys are slumping, but they’re all in the 80-95 wRC+ range and it’s not nearly the drag we see here. But we’re talking about wRC+ in the 30-75 range for all but two of them, and these are guys you otherwise expect to see putting up above-average numbers. That’s just not going to play.
Worse, this is not one of those posts where I can even offer you any sort of solution, because each guy is facing idiosyncratic reasons for their slumping. And I can’t even really shorten the window, because while that may help some of the players (Schwarber, Happ, Almora, Caratini) it hurts the others just as bad, if not worse (Contreras, Bote, Russell):
Cubs wRC+ Last 30 days:
Top of order:
Rizzo (181), Murphy (120), Baez (115), Zobrist (109), Bryant (106)
Middle/Bottom of order:
Schwarber (99), Happ (89), Almora (78), Contreras (57), Bote (51), Russell (-21!!!) https://t.co/fxPyxS573W
— FullCountTommy (@FullCountTommy) September 11, 2018
I sure hope the top of the order keeps doing it’s thing while the rest of the group heats back up. And soon, because the Brewers are hot as heck.