A failed checked swing ended the Cubs’ worst offensive series of the year, aptly culminating in a shutout loss Sunday.
The Cubs’ series against the Twins at Wrigley Field this weekend could be seen as a postseason rehearsal. The Cubs faced a team they hadn’t seen all regular season in a three-game series, just as they likely will in the first round of this year’s expanded playoffs.
The rehearsal fell flat. Falling 4-0 to the Twins on Sunday, the Cubs lost the series 2-1, scoring just two runs in three games.
Entering Sunday’s game, Cubs manager David Ross was already looking for solutions.
“Just trying to get some flow to the lineup,” Ross said before Sunday’s game. “It didn’t seem to be flowing as well as it possibly can right now. Just trying to see what happens if we move some things around.”
After keeping the top half of the lineup relatively consistent for much of the season – the main exception being Ian Happ taking over the lead-off role — Ross began to tinker with the batting order this week.
For the two-game Indians series, he moved Willson Contreras up to the cleanup spot and Javier Báez down to sixth. Then on Sunday, Ross swapped Kyle Schwarber and Contreras, so they hit fourth and fifth, respectively. He switched Jason Heyward and Báez, so they hit sixth and seventh.
“There’s not a huge drastic change today,” Ross said. “May have some moving parts the next couple days.”
Under normal circumstances, according to general manager Jed Hoyer, Ross would “lean on” the Cubs’ research and development team to fine-tune the batting order. As a group, they would explore the pros and cons of different lineups.
“I think in this particular case, it’s less about analytics and more about trying to see if something jump starts us,” Hoyer said. “I think he’s sort of taking a shot and hoping that maybe guys hitting in a different spot would give us a shot in the arm.”
Remember, even though there’s just a week left in the season, the Cubs have been playing for less than two months. Statistics have their limits with small sample sizes.
“In a normal season, I would have zero concern,” Hoyer said, “just because you feel like we’re going to play for four more months, and guys will get hot and great players don’t struggle for six months – in a normal season that’s not going to happen.
“So, this year’s different, right? The clock could run out and some of these guys never have a chance to get hot.”
Schwarber and Kris Bryant were both batting below .200 entering play Sunday. Báez (.209 batting average) has been streaky at the plate this season.
“I’m trying to get hot,” Báez said earlier this week. “I’m trying to be that guy for the team, and there’s a few players that are trying the same thing.”
If the season ended Sunday, the Cubs would face the Phillies in the first round. Thanks to this season’s regional schedules, the Cubs haven’t played Philadelphia since last August. They’d likely face Aaron Nola (5-3, 2.92 ERA) and Zack Wheeler (4-0, 2.62) in the first two games of that best-of-three series.
“You just have to hope that at some point we start clicking offensively,” Hoyer said. “What better time to do it than the home stretch and then the postseason?”