One run in a best-of-three series.
In the end, that was the Cubs’ downfall in a Wild Card Series with the Marlins at Wrigley Field this week – their offense didn’t deliver.
“Guys in our clubhouse that didn’t have the personal years that they had hoped and wanted didn’t hang their heads or, ‘poor me,’” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It was, come in and we try to win every day. We just fell short.”
After a promising offensive surge in the Cubs’ final regular season series, the only run they scored in the playoffs was a solo homer from Ian Happ. Now that the season is over, the question becomes, can the Cubs chalk their offensive woes up to a strange shortened season, or were they the latest example of a larger pattern?
In retrospect, the Cubs’ breakout series against the White Sox last weekend looks like fool’s gold. A three-game series against the Twins two weeks ago may have been a better predictor of the Cubs’ Wild Card Series performance.
It was the Cubs’ last regular season test against a team they hadn’t yet faced, and they scored just two runs in the three-game series.
The Cubs were even further removed from the Marlins, who were tucked away in the East all season. The Marlins pitching staff, including two flame-throwing starters, held the Cubs to nine hits in two games.
In Game 2, despite the shutout, the Cubs offense put more consistent pressure Miami than the game before. But with runners in scoring position and less than two outs in three different innings, the Cubs stranded them all.
“We were competing against the other team and against our struggle,” Cubs shortstop Javier Báez said. “It was hard. And it’s not an excuse because we were trying everything we could the whole season, and we didn’t get hot.”
Largely the same core scored a combined 16 runs in the final two games of the 2016 World Series. The next year, the Cubs did surge to nine runs in Game 5 of the NLDS to beat the Nationals. But then in the NLCS, they scored just one run in three of five games.
It’s true that offensive production overall slows in the playoffs as the quality of pitching improves. But the Cubs offense has averaged just 1.25 runs per game in its last three playoff series (including the 2018 Wild Card Game).
How could a group built around the same hitters have such different results year to year?
“I don’t have much of an answer to that,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. “I guess it goes back to this game being extremely tough. It’s the toughest sport in the word, no question about it. I’ll sit here and debate anybody – football, basketball, golf, whatever, I’ve played all of them.
“Baseball is an extremely tough sport. You can’t just go out there and just force it. You’ve got to go up there determined for the next one and maybe that’s the time that it clicks. But it just didn’t this year.”
A 60-game season is too small of a sample size to judge these hitters. But what if you add in missing the playoffs last year and losing the Wild Card Game the year before?
Those are questions the Cubs front office will have to answer this offseason as they evaluate their options moving forward.