When looking for answers to the Cubs’ first-half struggles just look at their bats. No, you won’t notice anything different. They look the same as the ones that brought them World Series glory last season.
But look closer at what they’re doing with those bats and you’ll start to see the problem. They’re just not hitting with them.
Last season, the Cubs overcame Jason Heyward’s season-long hitting slump because the rest of the team picked him up.
What’s alarming is that Heyward’s .230 batting average (BA) in 2016 doesn’t look so bad when you put it up to the meager team BA of .241 in 2017. Out of 30 teams, they’re tied for 28th with the Philadelphia Phillies for lowest team BA. Only the lowly San Diego Padres carry a more anemic team BA at .225.
Compare that to last season when the Cubs posted a team BA of .254 (19th) and it translates into a 13-point drop. That’s even with Heyward’s 28-point rise to .258.
Kyle Schwarber is the poster boy for an epidemic that afflicts the Cubs’ 2017 lineup from top to bottom. Sending him to AAA to find his swing again was a long overdue start but it hardly serves as a cure-all. Not when you still have Ben Zobrist batting .223 and Addison Russell barely above the Heyward line at .231.
Look at the teams at the top of the team BA leaderboard and it’s easy to see that it’s a strong measure of success. No. 1 is Houston, the team with baseball’s best record (52-25), with a team BA of .279. They’re followed by the Nationals (45-31) at .278, and the Yankees (41-33) and Rockies (49-28) at .270.
Not surprisingly, the Cubs also come in at second to last to the Padres in total hits per game at 8.11, a drop from 8.64 in 2016.
The Cubs are also slow. They’re fourth from last in total stolen bases per game at 0.30, a drop from 0.43 in 2016.
So they don’t hit well and they don’t run well. The one thing they do really do well is walk. As a team, they walk at an average of 3.95 times per game, trailing only the Dodgers’ 4.14.
The Cubs bats need to wake up from a half-season-long slumber. You’re not going to win a lot of games when you don’t hit and the Cubs just aren’t hitting. Only two players on the roster are batting over .280 – Jon Jay at .316 and Miguel Montero at .292 – and neither of them are playing regularly.
It’s not just Schwarber, Russell and Zobrist. Their two biggest stars – Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant – both batted. 292 last season. This year? They’re batting .261 and .259, respectively. That’s a whopping 64-point drop from the power core.
The Cubs can get along without Schwarber’s bat in the lineup. They proved that last season. There’s no telling if Schwarber comes back this season. Physical injuries can oftentimes heal much quicker than mental ones. Maybe he’s back in a few weeks. Maybe he makes another dramatic postseason return. Wouldn’t that be something? But for that to happen the rest of his teammates are going to have to step up to the plate and start hitting the ball a lot more than they’ve done so far this season.
Randy Richardson is the author of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, Lost in the Ivy, and a regular contributor to Wrigleyville Nation