The Cubs were supposed to run away with the Central for the third straight year. Instead, they’ve had to settle for a measly Wild Card spot. They could have avoided this had they been able to muster any offense against the Brewers in Monday’s tiebreaker, but that’s been the story of the season. Ask Cubs Twitter, and they’ll tell you that this team has severe offensive issues. I mean, just look at the lineup they trotted out against the Brewers with the division in jeopardy.
Daniel Murphy: 117 wRC+
Ben Zobrist: 124 wRC+
Javier Báez: 131 wRC+
Anthony Rizzo: 125 wRC+
Kris Bryant: 126 wRC+
Kyle Schwarber: 116 wRC+
Jason Heyward: 100 wRC+
Willson Contreras: 101 wRC+
What a bunch of scrubs, huh?
Non-pitching Cubs have hit .268/.345/.427 for a 107 wRC+. That’s sixth in the majors and second in the National League. Now, they’ve been without Bryant for much of the year, Rizzo started the year in a severe slump, Murphy hasn’t hit as well in a Cubs uniform, and Contreras isn’t the same but this offense is in better shape than the Rockies. The Rockies only have three above average hitters by wRC+ on their entire roster. The Cubs don’t have to play a below-average bat.
Still, Cubs Twitter isn’t wrong. This team does have some serious offensive problems. Though their 4.69 runs per game is ninth in the majors, the Cubs have been held to one run or fewer in 39 games. How can that be? How can a team be simultaneously potent and impotent?
The Cubs have run into the same problems as the Dodgers. The Dodgers nearly missed the playoffs because they haven’t been good in high leverage situations. As a team, the Cubs are hitting .226/.305/.340 in high leverage situations. That’s just a 68 wRC+ and the worst mark in the league. The Cubs are one point behind the Nationals and we saw how their season wound up.
Ian Happ, Anthony Rizzo, and Jason Heyward are the only hitters who haven’t gotten worse when the game is on the line. Báez, who has been the Cubs’ single best hitter this year, has an OPS of just .598 in high leverage situations. Contreras, who has had a down year all around, has been even worse at .467. But the biggest culprit of them all is Kyle Schwarber.
In 56 high leverage plate appearances, Schwarber has hit .044/.214/.044. That’s an OPS of .259. That’s a wRC+ of -62. In the biggest moments, Schwarber has hit like José Quintana. His -62 wRC+ isn’t just the worst on the team, it’s the worst in the majors. And he didn’t just eek out Devon Travis and Steven Duggar. His wRC+ is 16 points worse than the next closest player.
The Cubs’ lack of clutch manifested itself in Monday’s game. Looking at the FanGraphs play log, the Cubs were 1-for-19 with two walks in medium-to-high leverage situations (leverage index of 0.85 or higher). The one hit was Rizzo’s dinger. One walk set up Contreras grounding into a double play. The other walk (which came immediately after that double play) came ahead of Báez’s strikeout with runners on first and second to end the sixth. If you remember, Báez worked the count to 3-1 and eventually swung through a belt-high fastball.
The good news for the Cubs is that this isn’t indicative of any sort of flaw. This is just what has happened, not what will happen. This isn’t predictive. Chili Davis hasn’t turned the team into a ground attack team. Their ground ball rate is about where it was last year, and only slightly higher than the year before. They’re still a good offensive team just as the Dodgers are still a good offensive team. The Cubs lack of clutch hitting doesn’t prove to me that the Cubs won’t hit any more than the A’s incredible clutch hitting proves they’ll continue to hit.
Still, the Cubs find themselves on the brink of elimination because they haven’t been able to come up with the big hit. Now, they’ll need those hits to come if they want to stay alive.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville.