The good news for the Cubs so far this season is that big-ticket free agent Seiya Suzuki is so impactful that when he’s hot so is the team.
The not-so-great news: He hasn’t been even room temperature for two weeks, and the Cubs have turned as cold as the hard facts facing a cut-rate roster in the midst of another rebuild — and, of course, the weather.
Even when asked Wednesday about the feel-good moment of that Rookie of the Month award he won Monday, Suzuki didn’t blanch at the reality.
“I was really happy, but obviously my condition isn’t very well right now,” he said through his team interpreter. “So that’s what I’m trying to work on.”
Nine innings and four at-bats later, April’s rookie sensation was May’s bellwether for a fast-sinking Cubs team that trails even the hard-tanking Pirates in the National League Central.
Another 0-for-4 for Suzuki. Another low-scoring loss for the Cubs — this time 4-3 to the White Sox in a two-game South Siders’ sweep at Wrigley Field.
“I’m feeling good [at the plate], but I’m slumping so I’m trying to pick it up,” said Suzuki, who said he hasn’t identified anything specific that’s causing his slump and, in fact, went so far as to say he doesn’t think pitchers are approaching him any differently than they did early in the season, when he opened with one of the best 10-game career starts in franchise history.
“Actually I agree with him,” said manager David Ross, whose team lost for the 11th time in 14 games.
“What I see him playing with is just a little bit of timing,” Ross added. “I think just playing every single day and after starting off so comfortable, they’re being a little more aggressive. He’s fouled off a couple pitches that I think he thought he should have hit.”
The numbers suggest pitchers might be throwing more breaking balls early in the count to Suzuki, who has been conspicuously patient since the season started.
Asked before the game if he’d like to see Suzuki get more aggressive earlier in counts, Ross said, “As a whole, I wouldn’t put him in that bucket.”
Case in point: With one out in the eighth and runners at the corners in a one-run game, Suzuki looked like he was hunting fastballs early against against Matt Foster and swung through two quickly, the first one up and out of the zone.
He then popped up a 93-mph high fastball foul off of first base for the second out.
All of a sudden, the NL’s Player of the Week for the second week of the season was 8-for-52 (.154) with 18 strikeouts and a .459 OPS during the Cubs’ 14-game slide — including 0-for-8 with three strikeouts the last two nights against the Sox.
He had nine walks and six extra-base hits the first 10 games (1.493 OPS) — five and four in the last 14.
In those 14 games, the Cubs have scored one run five times, two runs three times and three runs three times.
“It’s obviously a long season,” said Suzuki, who puts in lengthy work regimens before and after games and seems confident with his approach. “So I want to continue and just keep what I’m doing.”
The Cubs expected an tough adjustment period when they signed him; if anything, the surprise was what he was able to accomplish the first two weeks, they say.
But how long it takes Suzuki to adjust again and regain his competitive footing at the plate figures to have a lot to say about the Cubs’ outlook, for this season as well as plans and timelines beyond.
“He’s played with some leg kicks and some non-strides and some things to try to get on time a little bit more consistent,” Ross said. “He started off and was surprising everyone, like, ‘Wow, this guy is taking the league by storm,’ right? And now you’re seeing the league kind of adjust, and he’s also in that same boat of adjusting back to pitchers and seeing a lot of these guys for the first and second time again.
“He’s got to go through the ebbs and flows of a season like everybody else.”