The reigning World Champs are playing like chumps right now. The Chicago Cubs haven’t gotten off to a strong start following their first title in 108 years. Coming into Sunday’s game, the team sat at just 43-44. With a win against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could at least get themselves to .500 before the All-Star break.
By the end of the first inning, that looked highly unlikely.
Starter Jon Lester didn’t even get out of the first inning. He gave up 10 runs, though only four were earned, on six hits and three walks. Lester gave up two home runs before he was pulled from the game.
While Lester’s line looks pretty bad, an error limited some damage to his ERA. With men on first and second and one out, Kris Bryant couldn’t handle a chopper from David Freese, loading the bases.
That opened the flood gates. The Pirates followed the error with a single, double and a single to bring in five runs. After a walk put men on first and second, pitcher Chad Kuhl dropped a sacrifice bunt for the second out of the inning. With men on second and third, Josh Harrison walked to load the bases again.
They weren’t loaded for long this time.
Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli belted a grand slam to run the score to 9-0. Andrew McCutchen followed that up with a solo shot to chase Lester from the contest. By the end of the first inning, the team was down 10-0. The Cubs would go on to lose the game 14-3.
The start perfectly encapsulated the Cubs’ struggles in the first half. The whole team has experienced a bit of a World Series hangover this year.
On offense, Anthony Rizzo got off to a terrible start before recovering in recent weeks. Some of the other Cubs haven’t been so lucky. After an offseason of re-hauling his swing, Jason Heyward is hitting .251/.312/.384. Javier Baez’s free-swinging ways have resulted in a sub .300 on-base percentage.
Two World Series heroes, Kyle Schwarber and Ben Zobrist, have completely cratered at the plate. Schwarber just got back from the minors after hitting .177 to start the year. The 36-year-old Zobrist may be showing his age with a .214/.307/.367 slash line.
The rotation hasn’t been great, either. Lester had been the team’s best starter coming into Sunday, but his ERA jumped to 4.25 following the debacle. Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks have seen their numbers rise as well. Both players have ERAs over 4.00.
John Lackey, 38, may have gone the way of Zobrist, posting a 5.20 ERA over 98 2/3 innings. Nearly all of the players signed to lock down the fifth spot in the rotation have struggled as well. Brett Anderson has an 8.18 ERA in 22 innings.
On top of that, the club hasn’t been without some controversy. Catcher Miguel Montero was designated for assignment after calling out Arrieta to the media. The team also made a second trip to the White House, which resulted in a picture that got people talking. They also had a weird couple of days in April after a few members of the club suggested Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eric Thames was cheating.
But in case you still needed evidence things are not great in Chicago, one of the highlights of their first half was outfielder Jon Jay tossing a scoreless inning with 50 mph fastballs.
As their record shows, the Cubs have actually played more than 81 games this year, but the All-Star break is seen as an unofficial midpoint in the season. The club surprisingly only has one player, reliever Wade Davis, on the squad this year, so it should give everyone else a few days to rest and regroup.
While the National League Central isn’t exactly strong, the Brewers are already putting pressure on Chicago. The big question is no longer can the Cubs repeat, it’s whether they can even make it to the postseason.
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