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Even for a team that’s been beaten by 13 runs and that’s blown a late, five-run lead in heartbreaking fashion in just the last two weeks, it’s hard to argue the Cubs have had many lower points than Friday.
In a 9-0 loss to the Reds, pretty much nothing went right for the North Siders:
- Justin Steele had his worst start of the year, lasting just 3 2/3 innings and giving up six runs (five earned) on 10 hits
- A couple of errors and some misplayed balls in the outfield (whether through bad jumps or bad reads) contributed to one of the team’s poorer defensive showings
- The bats were held completely in check, as young Cincinnati flamethrower Hunter Greene no-hit the Cubs for six innings (while tying a career-high with 11 strikeouts), and combined with three scoreless innings from the ‘Reds’ ‘pen, the Cubs were shut out for the first time this year
Christopher Morel eventually broke up the no-hit bid with a base hit leading off the top of the eighth, which earned the loudest cheers of the day from the 31,946 in attendance. But that’s probably a different indictment on the team’s performance Friday.
“You don’t want to get no hit, but it doesn’t matter,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “An ‘L’ is an ‘L.’ It doesn’t feel good.”
There are a number of veterans on this roster, and they try to keep that perspective that it’s barely Memorial Day weekend, and the Cubs have only played 50 games. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played.
Dansby Swanson understands that it’s a long season. He’s been through it before. Back in 2021, his Braves team didn’t even make it over .500 until Aug. 8 — and they went on to win the World Series. So, he knows what he’s talking about when he says the Cubs can’t get too down during low points in late May.
“Sometimes you’ve got to keep that bird’s eye view, right?” Swanson said. “That perspective from high up, just like, wow, we’re what,  games in? We’ve got plenty of room to grow. I think that we all believe that here, soon, we can get on a good roll. Obviously, it’s been a good start to this homestand, but I think that we can just continue to understand who we are better and continue to kind of dominate what it is that we’re good at.”
But at the same time, with a stretch of inconsistency that’s stretched for over a month now, assuming the ship will right itself without taking an honest look at what’s been ailing them would be naive.
“I think at times, teams can just try and, ‘All right, let’s just get the next one, let’s get the next one,'” Swanson said. “Yeah, there’s obviously some good out of that. But I think at the same time, you’ve got to be able to do a little bit of a dive and understand why you keep being unsuccessful, right? Some people call it panic; I just call it adjustments.
“Sometimes, you’ve just got to have an honest look at and assessment of yourself and the team and say, like, ‘All right, where can we get better, and how can we get better?’ And you start to make those changes along the way, and good things start to happen.”
Memorial Day is the point in the calendar when onlookers can make real assessments about what a team is. It’s nearly halfway between Opening Day and the trade deadline. The sample size isn’t so small anymore, and you’re nearing the end of being able to say it’s “early.”
No, they can’t let themselves get too high or too low, but does there need to be a sense of urgency for this club now?
“I think there’s been no lack of urgency,” Nico Hoerner said. “Trying harder or pressing isn’t necessarily something that’s going to help us, either, and I think it’s going day by day. I know that’s cliche, but it’s really all you can do.”
Some of the underlying numbers say the Cubs should be better than 22-28.
After Friday, they still owns the seventh-highest fWAR (8.1) on the position player side. Their rotation ranks ninth (4.2), and their much-maligned bullpen is middle of the pack (15th, 1.4). There have been times in this stretch when all those parts of the game are working together, like when they took the first two games of the homestand and won the series over the Mets.
But just when it seems they’ve taken a step forward, the Cubs follow it up by being outscored 19-1 combined in their last two games with poor overall performances in pretty much every facet of the game. It’s the constant ups and downs that have made the last month so frustrating for fans who want to see a competitive team.
Of course, they’re very much still in the race. The National League Central-leading Brewers lost Friday, too, so the Cubs remain 4.5 games out (they’re four games out of an NL Wild Card spot, too). So, if this group can get to a level where they’re getting consistent performances at the plate and on the mound, and they start to look more like the group some of their underlying numbers say they should’ve been (FanGraphs’ BaseRuns measurement says the Cubs should be 29-21 based on those underlying numbers), the playoffs aren’t already out of the picture.
They just need to start playing like that sooner rather than later.
“I think it comes down to everybody doing their own job in their own roles as well as they can and continuing to believe in each other, communicate, bring energy,” Hoerner said. “There’s no one thing. We’ve had stretches of all parts of our game being solid or better at every part of the season. It’s a matter of synching that up.”
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