Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gordo: Cubs Figure to Hit, but Pitching Is Question

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Gordo: Cubs Figure to Hit, but Pitching Is Question

Article excerpt

Chicago Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber delivered a magical World Series performance last fall, returning from a serious knee injury to hit .412 against Cleveland.

His unlikely return from major repairs gave the Not-So-Small Bears that extra clout they needed to edge the Indians and end their World Series drought. His astounding comeback was the capper in Chicago's storybook quest to break The Curse.

His return to the batting order for a full season gave experts another reason to predict another NL Central title for this offensive juggernaut. But baseball can be a funny game, or as Schwarber and the Cubs can attest this season not so humorous at all.

"I guess when it's going bad, it goes bad," Schwarber said in a downcast Cubs clubhouse Sunday afternoon after the defending champions lost two of three games to the Cardinals. "It stinks, but you can't let it bother you. It's a crazy game. It can put you in a great place, it can put you in a bad place."

Schwarber is in a really bad place, hitless in his last four games (14 at bats). Overall he is batting .179, which is the worst batting average of leadoff hitters with at least 100 at bats.

His season-long slump is just one of the many reasons the Cubs are languishing at 18-19 and in fourth place in the division, 3 games back of the resurgent Cardinals.

Slugger Anthony Rizzo (.213 batting average) hasn't been great. Neither has second baseman Javier Baez (.236), who suffered a World Baseball Classic hangover, or shortstop Addison Russell (.226), who banged up his shoulder.

Handyman Ben Zobrist (.223), currently stuck in a one-for-12 rut, sat out Sunday's game with a sore back.

"You never anticipate guys that good struggling at this point as much as they have," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "So I really believe that in some perverse way it's actually OK, or a good thing, because I have that much faith in our guys."

Last year the Cubs won 27 of their first 35 games to build a nine-game division lead by mid-May. But after winning six of their first nine games this season, they have played sub-.500 ball (12-16) for four weeks.

That sample is not large enough to suggest the Cubs are in serious trouble this season. But the mediocre month does tell the Cardinals that they have a real shot at winning another division title this season.

That should motivate the players to stay after it and management to move aggressively this summer if opportunities arise to improve the roster. (And given the high number of teams in tank-and-rebuild mode, general manager John Mozeliak should find a robust trade market if he decides to go there.)

The Cubs have been especially bad lately, losing seven of nine games heading into a 10-game homestand that starts Tuesday. Perhaps Maddon, a self-styled motivational genius, can bring some chainsaw jugglers, sword-swallowers or talking ferrets into Wrigley Field to loosen up the troops. …

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