Cubs

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Cubs

The Cubs are in the midst of a rough few weeks, yet will head to Cincinnati still in sole possession of first place after Thursday's storybook 9-7 win over the Braves. 

That's because the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals have also endured midseason lulls of their own while the Cubs have gone 13-13 in June. 

As a whole, the Cubs have a +13 run differential since June 1, thanks in large part to the 4.00 ERA they've put up this month (which ranks 7th in Major League Baseball). Overall, the pitching hasn't been the problem for the Cubs, even without Kyle Hendricks for a couple weeks. 

But the offense has not picked up its end of the bargain, entering play Thursday with a slash line of .244/.314/.415 in June — which ranks 23rd, 21st and 22nd in baseball, respectively. They're hitting .251 with runners in scoring position this month, but have also had stretches where that part of their game disappears. 

For weeks, manager Joe Maddon has preached the need for his team to become more "offensive" and find ways to win games 6-5 or 9-7 every once in a while. They finally accomplished that Thursday, rallying back from an early 6-1 deficit to set Craig Kimbrel up with a save on his first day in the Cubs bullpen.

On top of the general offensive woes, the Cubs have been making uncharacteristic mistakes defensively and on the basepaths of late, which Maddon believes might stem from trying to do too much.

 

"Well, that's why we've been so pedestrian," Maddon said. "I mean, we have not [played a clean game lately]. We started out slowly based on the bullpen having a hard time and then we got that straightened out and we kinda got it together. Since then, we've been up and down way too often. 

"I would like to see us go out there and kinda let it fly a little bit — not worry so much. In some ways, our guys are maybe proverbially trying too hard to be perfect. I don't want that. We have such wonderful talent — I never want to inhibit that. 

"The [hot stretch] is gonna come from consistency on offense, I believe, but in order to do that, we gotta kinda chill out a little bit out there and just go out there and play."

Defense has been a staple of this team since its championship season of 2016 and it's the one facet of the game that doesn't necessarily slump throughout the marathon of a season — though the Cubs are admittedly in a bit of a down moment in the field.

On the season, the Cubs are 25-14 when they play mistake-free baseball defensively, but they're only 19-23 when they commit at least one error. 

That was on display early Wednesday night as the Cubs made an error before even recording an out when Willson Contreras' throw skipped past Addison Russell on a Ronald Acuna stolen base. 

"I think the mistakes that we're making sometimes, it's trying to not make mistakes," Maddon said. "I don't like that method. I like the method where you go play fearlessly. When you do that, you're making less mistakes."

That fearless style of play is exactly how Javy Baez can help transform this team. He makes mistakes, but they almost always stem from being extra aggressive and not from worrying about messing up. 

The Cubs now have to go back out on the road — where they've struggled this year — to finish the first half of the season after failing to come through with a winning record on a 10-game homestand.

All nine of the upcoming games are against teams that are currently under .500, but the Cubs know all too well not to overlook the Cincinnati Reds or Pittsburgh Pirates and the White Sox just forced a series split at Wrigley last week.

This would've been a key opportunity for the Cubs to separate themselves from the pack in the division, but instead they're searching just to find consistency on a day-to-day basis. 

"We do talk about [the struggles]," Jason Heyward said. "We do talk about that stuff, but the game is what it is. We know we gotta keep working, we know we gotta keep pushing. We got an opportunity and we’re not trying to waste it. 

 

"It's not like we come out here and think we’re gonna play flat. We don’t show up and expect to win; we don’t expect anyone to roll over. We come out there and give it our best."