ST. LOUIS - Anthony Rizzo did all he could.
A batted ball with a .940 expected batting average is not supposed to be an out, obviously.
But that's what happened in the eighth inning of the Cubs' 2-1 loss to the Cardinals Sunday afternoon, their third straight defeat and eighth in the last 10 games.
Rizzo's looping liner with two runners on should've tied the game, but instead it settled into the very edge of Kolten Wong's glove. It was a great defensive play, no doubt, but it was also a microcosm of the Cubs' last week-plus: A mix of bad luck and lack of execution.
Make no mistake - nobody in the Cubs clubhouse is whining or throwing a pity party. They understand they won't get where they want to go this season by making a bunch of excuses.
"It's not like we're in here moping around - 'poor us, we can't get a hit right now with a runner in scoring position,'" Rizzo said. "We're doing our best and we're just falling short."
Since the eighth inning of last Monday's game in Houston, the only runs the Cubs have scored have come via home runs or on outs. They have only 1 hit in 33 at-bats with a runner in scoring position, but that hit was a bunt single by Daniel Descalso Saturday night that loaded the bases and did not plate a run.
"We just haven't driven in runs," manager Joe Maddon said. "We just haven't. We just gotta get better at doing that."
Sounds simple, right? But how do the Cubs actually go about fixing the issue?
Maddon wants his Cubs hitters to reorganize the strike zone and get back to an approach utilizing the middle and opposite fields and not focused on hitting home runs - an approach they had when they were one of the best lineups in baseball for the first quarter of the season.
Strikeouts have been a big factor lately, as the Cubs whiffed 9 more times Sunday (5 combined by Kris Bryant and Javy Baez).
"I really think the reduction in [production] with runners in scoring position is because we have not been in the oppo gap enough and I think strikeouts are attributable to that, also," Maddon said. "We've hit some home runs and maybe we're all a little bit home run happy. I want it all - I want two-strike approach, I want opposite gap, I want scoring one run and not having to worry about scoring all 3 or 4 [with one swing]. I want all of that stuff.
"We showed you we can do that. It'll come back. We're in a little bit of a bad stretch. We've faced some good pitching, but [hitting coaches Anthony Iapoce and Termel Sledge] do a great job and the guys are gonna get it. It's gonna come back to us. We just have to endure this moment right now."
Rizzo believes the hitters just need to keep putting themselves in opportunities with runners in scoring position and eventually a breakthrough will come.
He and his Cubs teammates are just trying to grind out tough at-bats and ride the wave until things turn.
"I think trying to do too much is the key that we're struggling with right now," Baez said. "Being nice to the ball and let the game come to us is the key to get back on track."
This is a game defined by failure, where even the best players don't come through more than 3 or 4 times out of 10.
But this is also a Cubs clubhouse filled with veterans who have been through just about everything this game can throw at a player and even the younger guys on the team know what it's like to ride the ebbs and flows of a long season.
This year is proof of that, as the Cubs got out to a 2-7 start after spending all winter talking about the need for urgency and getting off on the right foot in a year of reckoning.
"There's always a point of frustration with baseball," said Cole Hamels, who took the tough-luck loss Sunday despite not allowing an earned run in 7 innings. "It is a game of failure. It's a game of learning from your mistakes, capitalizing when you can and not getting too down on yourself when you have bad breaks.
"That's the nature of what sports are. You have to persevere. These are just moments that we're gonna have to persevere and dig deep and do the little things to win ballgames. Obviously we were able to do that after the first week of the season, so there's times that it happens again.
"You just kind of go with it. We all know who we are and what we're capable of doing, so to not be down and out on that. We'll come back and we have a game tomorrow and that's a good thing, so just start the homestand on a good note."
This also a sport with a degree of luck built in - where you can do absolutely everything right and execute perfectly and that doesn't guarantee you success.
Take Rizzo's looping liner Sunday - 94 times out of 100, that falls in and maybe that would've changed the entire rest of the game. Meanwhile, two batters earlier, Kyle Schwarber looped a fly ball down the left field line that fell in for a single...even though it had an expected batting average of only .050.
Earlier in the game, Bryant had finally broken up Adam Wainwright's no-hitter with a single to left field, but Rizzo came up and promptly lined into a double play, as he hit a hard smash right at Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, who made a nice leaping catch. That ball had a .710 expected batting average and it was the second time in the game the Cubs had lined into a double play.
The night before, it looked like Bryant had come through with runners on, hitting a hard ground ball up the middle with the bases loaded. But the ball deflected off the glove of St. Louis pitcher Andrew Miller and instead of a game-tying 2-run hit, it wound up going as a force out at second base and the Cubs managed just 1 run.
Obviously it's also about a lack of execution. Before Rizzo's liner was caught by Wong in the eighth inning, Wainwright struck out Bryant with a 90 mph fastball on his 123rd pitch of the afternoon.
"The game will beat you up if you permit it," Maddon said. "It's a cyclical game. We were doing really well about a week ago and all of a sudden, we've had a tough week. We played Houston - a really good pitching staff. We come in here and they've pitched well against us. It'll come back.
"Things haven't been [going our way]. It's the weird part of playing 162 games. We just gotta keep fighting through it. There's nothing to cry about."
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ST. LOUIS - When Javy Baez was scratched from the Cubs' lineup Saturday, it understandably sent shock waves through the fanbase.
Any time Baez misses, it's a huge deal, as he's arguably the most important player on the Cubs roster.
But this was even more cause for concern given it's the same heel injury he's been dealing with for two weeks and the Cubs just had a day off Thursday.
Less than 24 hours later, Baez is back in the lineup and at shortstop again for Sunday's series finale against the Cardinals. Joe Maddon talked Saturday about the possibility of Baez playing third base when he returns to the lineup, to reduce the lateral movement in the field, which is when the heel really acts up.
It was Baez who went to Maddon to let the Cubs manager know his heel was bugging him before Saturday's game - an indication the foot must be a real issue. But things took a turn for the positive throughout the Cubs' 7-4 loss amid a rain delay that stretched to nearly four hours.
"I talked to him after the game last night - he said, 'I want to play,'" Maddon said. "I said, 'OK, you want to play third?' He said, 'No, I want to play shortstop.' I'll just keep a close eye on him. I know it's not 100 percent, but that's just who he is, so I'll just watch him. He wants to play, he said he's ready to go, so we'll just do that."
Maddon has lauded Baez's toughness often and last year's NL MVP runner-up never wants to come out of the lineup, even when he's banged up. So the onus is on Maddon and the Cubs' coaching and training staff to determine if it's worth the risk for Baez to play.
The last thing this team wants or needs right now is to lose their star player for an extended period of time while they're in the midst of a 2-7 stretch. But the Cubs also have hopes of playing deep into October again this season and they don't want to risk any long-term injury to Baez, either.
Maddon insisted the heel injury is not affecting Baez's offense at the moment and the Cubs training staff has not instituted any restrictions.
"You talk to the trainers and the medical people [in addition to the player]. Everybody's fine," Maddon said. "I had him in the lineup [Saturday] before I had to take him out. And then actually game-in-progress, he started to feel better based on the treatment.
"This is a decision I will listen to the player with. Again - based on the medical reconnaissance, too. I feel good about it, but I do want to watch him."
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