Cubs

Cubs offense hits rough patch in loss to Brewers

rizzocubslose050215.png

Cubs offense hits rough patch in loss to Brewers

It was a picture-perfect day at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs still walked away with a bad taste in their mouths.

The Cubs (13-9) offense managed just one run and five hits as they lost to the Brewers 6-1 in front of 34,878 fans at Wrigley Field.

In addition to the 70-degree weather and sun-soaked forecast, it was also the first time the wind was blowing out for a game this season at the corner of Clark and Addison.

But the Brewers (6-18) were the only team to truly take advantage of the conditions, as Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Milwaukee added another pair of runs in the second off a couple of balls just out of the reach of Cubs defenders.

"Just wasn't very good today," Arrieta said. "Plain and simple, didn't do a good enough job. We need more out of our starter and didn't give us the effort that I intended to today."

On one play in the second inning, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell collided in shallow right field attempting to catch Carlos Gomez's looping pop-up, which wound up falling for a hit, leading to the first run. Both players were shaken up on the play, but stayed in the game.

"It was really just awkward from the dugout," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Got out there and neither one seemed to be in trouble, so obviously felt good about that. We're just fortunate it wasn't worse than it looked."

The Brewers got their sixth run in the ninth inning when Starlin Castro made a throwing error to first base and even though no one had covered third base, Rizzo turned and threw it anyways, allowing Logan Schafer to circle the bags on what started as a weak ground ball to shortstop.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Rizzo provided the only offense for the Cubs with a solo shot to center in the sixth inning.

Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero started off the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, with singles, but the Cubs weren't able to do anything after that.

Beyond that, the only other hits were singles off the bats of Chris Denorfia and Russell.

"The home run early on by Braun really set the tone for them," Maddon said. "And we were just unable to answer anything. Their guy pitched really well. [Fiers] was good today."

The day started promising for the Cubs as two of the first three batters - Soler and Rizzo - worked walks from Brewers starter Mike Fiers, but Fiers then came back to strike out Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero as part of a stretch where he retired 12 Cubs in a row.

Fiers struck out 12 batters in his six innings and the Cubs struck out 18 times as a whole on the afternoon. Maddon attributed the high strikeout total to Fiers' location.

"I just think he was throwing the ball where he wanted to," Maddon said.

The Cubs have now scored just three runs in the last 30 innings dating back to Tuesday.

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

4-13_baez_usat.jpg
USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: