Some said they expected the White Sox to learn a lot about themselves during this three-game series against the Cubs.
Whether that’s true, it didn’t take nearly so long for the Cubs to learn something about the Cubs in this series.
Here are just a few things the first two games of the series have taught anyone watching those 10-1 and 7-4 losses about these short-season Cubs:
They’re lucky they’re not in the other Central division.
If the Sox are the third-best team in the AL Central, the Cubs might be eliminated from division contention by Labor Day — their two-game sweep in Cleveland during that team’s Plesac-Clevinger turmoil notwithstanding.
The Cubs’ greatest advantage on this two-month sprint toward the playoffs remains a division that still doesn’t have another winning team four weeks into the season — and whose defending champ/preseason favorite is saddled with eight doubleheaders on its remaining schedule as it continues to recover from its huge COVID-19 outbreak.
The Cubs can’t hit lefties.
Maybe it’s largely because Kris Bryant has been hurt, and Javy Báez has slumped, but nuisance trend the first few weeks took on glaring-weakness proportion against the Sox.
Dallas Kuechel retired the first 11 — and 15 of the first 16 — Cubs he faced in a cruise-control victory Friday before the Cubs went 1-for-9 against the previously struggling Gio Gonzalez on Saturday.
That gave them a .212 average and .334 slugging percentage against lefties this season — which might be fine until they see the Cardinals bullpen again or the Dodgers or Braves in (ahem) October.
The Cubs really need Bryant back healthy and really need Báez back to performing like an All-Star. Really.
The 2016 MVP and 2018 runner-up are both hitting under .200 with nearly twice as many combined strikeouts (55) as hits (30). For a veteran lineup that was the projected strength of the team gong into the season, they have never looked more important.
Bryant, who has played through wrist and finger soreness since jamming his hand trying to make a diving catch in Cleveland last week, finally went on the 10-day IL and is eligible to return for the Cubs’ doubleheader Saturday in Cincinnati.
Báez had a single and walk in each of the two Sox games. Whether that sign of offensive pulse is a sign of things to come, that’s definitely the Cubs over in the corner holding their breaths while they wait to find out.
“I’m not trying to suck. I’m not trying to struggle,” Báez said “I’m just trying to get better every day.”
The ball flies this time of year at Wrigley Field.
It was hard to be sure of that until the last two nights, when the Sox unloaded on Cubs pitching for eight home runs through the first 15 innings of the series.
Make that nine through 17.
Make that 11 through 18.
Yep (*checks scorebook*), 11 home runs by five different Sox hitters off six different Cubs pitchers in two games — five by José Abreu.
“They’ve got a ton of slug. It’s a big-swing, homer team that can burn you at any minute,” Cubs manager David Ross said. About three hours before the series started.
Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs starter Saturday, said the Cubs had a good plan and felt he made only one bad pitch — on the first of two homers he allowed, to Luis Robert.
“I think it’s where we caught them right now,” he said of the hot-hitting, streaking Sox.
Ian Happ is a good alternative in the leadoff spot to Bryant.
The switch-hitter reached on a walk in the first and a single in the fifth (the only hit off Gonzalez) and drove in a run in the ninth with a grounder Saturday.
In seven games this season at leadoff, he’s hitting .280 with a .400 on-base percentage and 1.160 OPS.
“Happer has been really good and has shined for us from the get-go,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “And he’s been really handling the leadoff spot well the last few days.”
The Cubs plan to keep paddling, no matter what creek they're looking up.
A little quick math applied to the Cubs’ first 26 games shows only three losses in their first 16 games — and only three wins in their last 10.
“When the ship is sinking you feel like you’re all just about to drown,” Rizzo said. “But that’s the beauty of this game, is you get to come back tomorrow and keep paddling and keep playing.”