Commentary: Lineup questions still remain with Cubs


by - Staff Writer -
Bryant and Baez are elite hitters when making solid contact (Kamil Krzaczynski - USA Today Sports)
Bryant and Baez are elite hitters when making solid contact (Kamil Krzaczynski - USA Today Sports)

Without diving too much into one game — and opening day 5-3 loss at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates — Thursday’s season opener did bring up some wildly concerning issues that have plagued the Cubs for the last few seasons.

The Cubs were able to respond on Saturday and Sunday, rebounding to win the final two games of the opening series and win the series against the Pirates. As it stands right now, the Cubs and Reds are tied for the division lead.

However, despite grabbing two wins, the Cubs only accumulated 12 hits — tied with the 0-3 Atlanta Braves for the least amount of hits in baseball.

Unfortunately, I think playing the Pirates helped shield the Cubs, but they're still are some glaring issues.

These issues are not any alarming, groundbreaking, brand new problems. After the 2018 season, Theo Epstein preached to the Chicago media saying that the Cubs offense had broke — as the Cubs let a division lead slip away and lost game 163 and the wild card games consecutively, scoring just 2 runs total.

Epstein and Hoyer promised to address that issue, but only added Daniel Descalso to the underachieving core. How did that 2019 season end? The Cubs collapsed in September, thanks to a lack of hitting and missed the playoffs for the first time in Joe Maddon’s Cubs era.

Surely Epstein would get that problem fixed before 2020 right? Wrong.

The Cubs were unable to add any major offensive pieces and saw their team, once again, have its offense disappear when it mattered most. This time, a one-run output in a two-game sweep at the hand of the Miami Marlins at Wrigley Field. To put it all into perspective, since game five of the 2017 NLCS, the Cubs are 0-5 in postseason games, scoring a total of four runs.

After that 2020 season, Epstein left the Cubs.

The keys to the franchise are now in Jed Hoyer’s hand, and while he did have a busy winter — the Cubs were unable to fully go through that lineup identity makeover the organization has been promising since 2018. Instead, the Cubs shedded Kyle Sschwarber, and added a very similar replacement in Joc Pederson. The Cubs also were able to add/retain some role players like Jake Marisnick, Cameron Maybin, Eric Sogard, Matt Duffy, and Ildemaro Vargas.

But at the end of the day, the Cubs’ lineup is still very similar to the one that ended the 2020 season, and 2019, and 2018.

In the last three seasons, the Cubs have become a team that is prone to the three true outcomes — home run, strikeouts, and walks. While in 2020, the Cubs proved to be one of the most patient teams in the MLB, they also were one of the easiest to punch out — and the reason the offense didn’t seem too adequate is that they were not keeping up with the long ball.

However, when you analyze the Cubs’ lineup in 2021 — most of the same players with those same issues are still present. This was not any more obvious than when the Cubs were two-hit on opening day while striking out 13 times.

While some may argue that you can not use the first game/series of the season as an accurate benchmark to analyze the I team, I would generally agree. However, when the team is mostly constructed the same as it has been for the past three seasons and the problems that arise in the first game of the fourth season are the same that have plagued the team for the last three — I don’t think it is an overreaction.

Instead, I believe it is a bad job of roster management by an organization that has clearly recognized and defined a problem — and declined to fix it.

The Cubs know how to fix it, it’s about putting the ball in play more and creating traffic on the bases. As a result, this generally leads to more mistakes and higher pitch counts from pitchers. Then the Cubs can use their patient approach to their advantage and drive pitches in favorable counts into gaps and over the fence — thus creating the offensive dynamic the Cubs had in 2016.

However, the Cubs have been unable to recreate the magic of 2016 — and the roster has become one that settles into the same approaches, which just so happen to be one of many strikeouts, walks, and not enough home runs for most.

The Cubs should hope for the message of contact to finally sink with this lineup. If not, the Cubs could be in for a long summer and Jed Hoyer may be handcuffed come the trade deadline.

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