The Cubs’ nightmare stretch of baseball (30 scheduled games in 30 days) will wrap up after just one more series, a three-gamer against the Diamondbacks starting tonight, and the end can’t come soon enough – at least, for the offense.
To be sure, the team’s 17-10 record during these first 27 games is good for a .629 winning percentage, which is not only better than their NL Leading .584 winning percentage this season, but also the sort of rate that would put them on pace for 102 victories over the course of an entire season.
And while being swept this week would probably be a nightmare in the standings, I don’t think anyone would’ve shied away from locking in a 17-13 stretch when this all began – especially if you added that there’d be two double-headers and two one-day travel days mixed into the losses of Kyle Schwarber, Jason Heyward, and Pedro Strop. And hey, they can still win some of these three remaining games. So, yeah, this hasn’t been a bad outcome.
Still, while the destination has been welcoming, the journey has not. During this stretch, the Cubs leaned on good starting pitching, which worked with whatever scraps the offense provided, to eek out wins at razor thin margins. Indeed 7 of the Cubs’ last 17 victories were taken by just one run, and 9 of 17 were won by two or fewer. Thanks to a handful of blowouts early on, their total runs scored during this stretch is right in the middle of the pack of baseball (14th), but if you zoom in just one week from the starting point, they immediately drop down to 27th in MLB.
But it gets uglier than that.
Since the start of this stretch, the Cubs, as a whole, have slashed .248/.312/.398. That’s good for a 90 wRC+ (9th worst in MLB). But, again, that included some blowouts at the start of this slog.
Shorten up to just the last two weeks, and the Cubs offense has been THE SINGLE WORST by wRC+ in all of baseball. That’s a .215/.286/.301 slash line and a 59 wRC+. That’s worse than the Marlins, than the Orioles, than the White Sox. That’s bad. That’s very bad. Oh my sweet goodness that’s bad.
So what’s the major malfunction? Obviously, there are many culprits, but one thing certainly stands out:
Ground ball rate: 49.0% (30th)
Fly ball rate: 30.4% (30th)
That is the HIGHEST ground ball rate and LOWEST fly ball rate in MLB from August 21st until today. And given what we know about the benefits of elevating the baseball, that’s obviously a real problem. Sadly, that’s not the end of the issue. Because when you pair all those ground balls and lack of fly balls with the following quality of contact, you’ll see how the issue has compounded upon itself:
Soft%: 19.3% (26th)
Hard%: 29.7% (27th)
Not only are the Cubs hitting it into the ground way more than anybody else, they’re also hitting it about as weakly as any team in baseball – at least that explains why they’re tied for the 4th most double plays during this stretch.
For what it’s worth, it’s not at all hard to imagine this being a symptom of a grueling slate of 30 scheduled games in 30 days. The Cubs are tired, and you could argue it’s showing up in the data. Note: they are quite fortunate to have had such a high batting average on balls in play during this stretch (.308 BABIP, 9th in MLB), because without that, they could’ve been in some serious trouble in the won/loss department.
As it stands, the Cubs can clearly use a rest and possibly some internal reinforcements from guys like Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward. This offense was once a mighty beast, but even with Kris Bryant back and Daniel Murphy added into the mix, it’s been a slog. I’m not sure there’s reason to believe it’ll get any better before they get a day off*, and even then, how confident can we be that a single day of rest will really turn things on a dime? Perhaps the off-day, combined with finishing off the season in Chicago, however, will do the trick. Here’s hoping, anyway.
*But, you know, days off are obviously just a legend bat boys and girls tell each other around the campfire. Everyone knows they don’t really exist.