ATLANTA — Perhaps it’s the hitting background at Sun Trust Park. Or perhaps the Chicago Cubs simply can’t give up their affinity for striking out a lot.
After whiffing just twice in a Monday game against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field, the Cubs reverted to their old ways once the series shifted south. They’ve struck out 26 times over the past two games against the Braves, including 11 times in a 4-1 loss on Wednesday.
“When they run out arms throwing 100 mph with a slider, sometimes it’s tough just to hit the ball, just in general,” third baseman Kris Bryant said after the loss. “Today, [Brandon] McCarthy had a great sinker and cutter playing off of that.”
Bryant is about the only Cub who has hit in Atlanta this series. He was 3-for-4 on Wednesday — driving in the Cubs’ lone run — but was left stranded each time he reached base. The Cubs were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. It’s an old tune that gets updated every so often.
“We need to do a better job at the plate,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We had an opportunity to score more runs.”
Getting the leadoff man on base in innings 4-8 but scoring only once is the storyline for this loss — not Maddon pulling starter Tyler Chatwood in a 1-1 game in the sixth despite Chatwood having thrown only 79 pitches. Could Maddon have left Chatwood in the game? Sure. But the lefty/lefty matchup he eventually got on Nick Markakis worked out as the .340 hitter bounced into a double play.
Saving his bullpen is an important narrative for another day as Maddon admitted Chatwood pitched great and said he would have left Chatwood in the game — if the Cubs had any sort of a lead. That won’t happen when the strikeouts pile up as they are right now. Javier Baez, for example, struck out three times Wednesday and hasn’t drawn a walk in more than 130 plate appearances.
“He’s opened it up a bit,” Maddon said of Baez’s hitting mechanics. “That’s what I’m seeing.”
Batting right after Baez, Kyle Schwarber whiffed twice, while the two combined to leave nine men on base.
“Hitting is contagious and I feel like striking out and bad at-bats can be contagious, too,” Bryant said.
Maddon added: “Chasing. Just chasing. Getting out of our zones.”
It’s just a couple of games, but every so often Cubs fans will be reminded they’re watching an offense in transition. Focusing on putting the ball in play hasn’t been part of the players’ DNA in the past; the coaching staff is trying to inject them with that ability as the players mature.
Despite having a solid run differential, the Cubs are third-to-last in getting a runner home from third with less than two outs, and are below league average in getting a runner from second to third with no outs. Ian Happ had that chance after a leadoff double by Addison Russell in the seventh inning on Wednesday, but flied out to short right. At least there was contact. There were plenty of other times when the Cubs fanned with men on base.
“I want us to maintain the good work to this point and not start opening up a little bit,” Maddon said. “That was our issue tonight. We were just out of our zones again in RBI situations. We have to force the pitcher over the plate, find your pitch and move it.”