Cubs

How Cubs can jumpstart slumping offense at Dodger Stadium

How Cubs can jumpstart slumping offense at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES - Toward the end of the regular season, a reporter asked Joe Maddon if he would consider changing the batting order around with a couple guys struggling.

Maddon looked at the reporter incredulously, laughed and then said the lineup is staying as is. After all, the Cubs had the best record in baseball. Why mess with a good thing?

Fast forward a few weeks and Maddon fielded two separate questions about possible lineup changes during his media sesson on Monday's workout day and both times he admitted alterations could be on the way.

"You don't have 75 games left in the season to play where you can catch up from a bad moment," Maddon said. "You have to try to make your best guess right now to take advantage of the moment.

"So yeah, moving forward, there are certain things we may attempt to do, absolutely. But it won't be wholesale."

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On the one hand, the Cubs woke up Monday morning with the second-most runs scored in the postseason, only three behind the high-powered Toronto Blue Jays offense.

The Cubs are averaging 4.1 runs a game, down a decent amount from the 4.98 runs per game they averaged during the regular season. The Los Angeles Dodgers, meanwhile, are averaging only 3.4 runs per contest.

But of the Cubs' 25 runs scored, nine came in two late-game rallies (four in the ninth in the epic NLDS-clinching comeback in San Francisco and five in the eighth of the NLCS opener - four of which came on one swing).

Another six of those runs were driven in by pitchers in the NLDS. Even though the Cubs boast an athletic group of hurlers, it's not plausible to expect them to continue to drive in 35 percent of the team's runs in each series.

The Cubs have won four of their six postseason games based on timely hitting and elite pitching, a great formula for success.

The problem is: The Cubs have the lowest batting average (.193) and on-base percentage (.251) of the eight teams that advanced beyond the wild-card games.

After getting shut out and tallying just two hits and a walk against Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen in Game 2 Sunday night, the Cubs admitted they are a little surprised by their lack of offense after scoring the third-most runs during the regular season.

But they also pointed to some bad luck, like Javy Baez crushing Kershaw's offering with a runner on base in the seventh inning only to see the ball settle into Joc Pederson's glove in the deepest part of the park.

They aren't striking out at a much higher rate - 8.83 whiffs per game compared to 8.26 strikeouts per game in the regular season.

"They're not always gonna fall," Jason Heyward said. "You're gonna hit 'em at people at times. Pitchers are gonna make their pitches. Guys are gonna be in the right spot. 

"But you want to keep having at-bats. You want to keep having opportunities to do so. That's all you can ask for."

The Cubs understand each new day presents a chance to reset and know they need to get back to that American League-style lineup that wears down opposing starting pitchers.

Low offense is also just a product of the time of the year with only the best pitchers getting in games and thanks to so many built-in off-days, elite relievers can appear in nearly every game.

The four teams left alive right now - Cleveland (.238), Toronto (.230), Los Angeles (.218) and the Cubs (.193) - all have batting averages well below the .255 MLB average in the regular season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

At the same time, the urgency has ramped up in the playoffs and inside the clubhouse, the Cubs know some changes could be coming.

"Just because it's the postseason doesn't mean we're going to change our M.O.," Ben Zobrist said. "I mean, Joe changed the lineup all the time during the season. So if he changes it now during the postseason, it shouldn't be any different to us.

"It's actually more different if nothing changes. That's kinda the way the things have always operated with our team."

Entering a three-game set in Los Angeles, the Cubs are choosing to look at the glass as half full, understanding they've won two-thirds of their postseason games despite five everyday starters batting .182 or below.

"It's such a small sample size right now that you don't even want to look at the numbers, 'cause that really doesn't matter," Zobrist said. "All that matters is the wins and losses. I think even the guys that are hitting well would tell you that.

"For the guys that maybe feel like they're scuffling a little bit, turn the page right now. If you're thinking about yesterday, then it's already passed you by. You need to focus on the next at-bat, the next pitch.

"You can turn that around at any point because that's in the future. What's in the past is in the past. We don't really care about stats or numbers up to this point. We really just care about the wins and losses."

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow is getting an extended All-Star Break.

For the second time in the last month, the Cubs closer is heading to the disabled list to get another break, this time with inflammation in his right biceps.

That leaves the Cubs without their best relief pitcher — a guy with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 chances — for the next week as the team hits the ground running in the second half with 12 games in 11 days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

"It's been bothering him a bit, but we thought it was manageable," Joe Maddon said before the Cubs kicked off play Thursday evening. "But now it's not [manageable], so just have to take a little bit of a break. 

"We don't anticipate him being gone for a long time, but it seems to be prudent to go this course right now."

Maddon pointed to a bit lower velocity Morrow had in San Diego Sunday and believes now is "the right time to back off for the latter part of the season."

The Cubs do have Carl Edwards Jr. back from the paternity list and the 26-year-old flamethrower already got a "break" of his own earlier this season when he missed about 5 weeks with a shoulder issue.

The word "break" is key here because that's how Maddon and the Cubs characterize these little stints on the disabled list.

After all, they are "breaks," even if they're not built into a season like the All-Star Break.

The Cubs want both Morrow and Edwards to be healthy and dynamic in late September and throughout the postseason in October. They've been uber-cautious about the two pitchers throughout their respective Cubs careers and a stint on the disabled list serves to save bullets and wear and tear on their right arms in the dog days of the season.

After all, Morrow has already appeared in 35 games this season, which he's only done once since 2008 — last year, when he pitched in 45 games. Morrow has a long history of arm issues, so the Cubs have given him plenty of slack as they try to keep him healthy for the most important stretch of the season.

But that's also why the Cubs are looking to add some reinforcements to the bullpen before the trade deadline. They were linked to Brad Hand before the lefty was traded to the Cleveland Indians Thursday and they've also been linked to Orioles closer Zach Britton.

If Britton's healthy, he could serve as a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental with closing experience and a guy from the left side to help fill both needs in the Chicago bullpen.

The Cubs currently have Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing as left-handed options in the bullpen, but all are at varying levels of confidence at the moment.

Wilson still has some issues with control, but otherwise has been very good of late. Rosario is a rookie and his outlying numbers indicate his 1.95 ERA is a bit of a mirage. Duensing just recently returned from the DL himself and currently boasts a 6.59 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season.

Then there's Mike Montgomery, who right now has a stranglehold on a spot in the Cubs rotation while Yu Darvish gets healthy. There is currently no update on Darvish, which means Montgomery won't be moving back to the bullpen anytime soon.

With less than 2 weeks left until the trade deadline, Maddon would be all for adding another arm or two to his pitching staff.

"Sure. All of the pitching, they're definitely going to want to look at it," Maddon said. "Our numbers are among the best in the NL both overall and as a bullpen and then even into the starters.

"But you're always looking to make it better. That's what GMs do. We'll see how it all plays out. We're hoping the [Morrow] thing is a shorter situation, which we believe it will be."

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

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USA TODAY

Cubs reportedly a 'main player' in trade talks for Orioles' Zach Britton

According to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score, the Cubs are a “main player” in a possible trade for Orioles closer Zach Britton before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

The Cubs will face competition from some familiar names as far as a bidding war for Britton goes. 

After sending Cubs closer Brandon Morrow back to the 10-day disabled list with right biceps inflammation on Thursday, the team could be searching for another reliever.

The 30-year-old is a ninth-inning veteran who tallied a career-high 47 saves with a 0.54 ERA in 2016, the year he finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting. He’s also been selected to two All-Star Games in his eight-year career.

But the closer’s 2018 season has had its ups and downs. He’s spent time getting reacquainted to pitching after having surgery for a ruptured right Achilles tendon that kept Britton out until June. He’s only pitched in 15 games while posting a 3.68 ERA in 14 2/3 innings. Britton hasn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances.

Should the Cubs actually be concerned with his recent health issues?  According to MLB.com, the Orioles reliever has “been showing a dramatic increase in velocity.” It seems it took him some time to get back to his previous form.

If he can even be close to the same player he was two years ago, Britton would be more than useful to the Cubs bullpen.