LOS ANGELES — Cubs manager Joe Maddon is keeping calm while fans in Chicago might be “freaking out” over the team’s 25-24 record as the calendar hits Memorial Day. After a weekend sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Maddon was asked what to tell a nervous fan base.
“Please, go ahead and freak out,” he said with a smile. “If you want to freak out, freak out.”
The point he’s trying to make — along with his players — is panic within the clubhouse won’t do anyone any good, but fans can feel however they want. Of course, it doesn’t help knowing the Cubs went 25-6 to start last season and then went on to win the World Series.
“I don’t see any reason to worry, especially given what we did last year,” reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant said. “There is no need to worry. You’re going to have your good years, you’re going to have your bad years. Your good starts, your bad starts. This is an average start; it’s not a terrible start. Sometimes it happens. We’ve spoiled ourselves with last year and that start. I guess it’s a good thing to have those expectations because we do, too.”
Most of the team’s problems stem from a starting staff that has been inconsistent this year, though they’ve been better lately. That wasn’t the case on Sunday when Jon Lester — coming off a complete-game win — got lit up for a season-high three home runs in a 9-4 loss to the Dodgers. That came after the team was shut out in its first two games of the series.
The Cubs have been swept three times this year after enduring that only twice all of last season. Lester was asked when the Cubs will go on a run.
“You can’t make anything happen in this game,” he answered. “Sometimes it’s better to sit back and let things come to you. You’re not pressing, then.
“We have a good team. It’ll come. It’ll click.”
Starting pitching is just one problem, albeit the most important one. At the plate, the Cubs have been way too one-dimensional. They’re hitting home runs but that’s all they’re doing. In fact, it has been a full week since they had a run-scoring hit that wasn’t a home run.
For example, with the tying runs on second and third and one out in the fifth inning on Sunday — and just after the Cubs had chased Clayton Kershaw — they got no contact out of their next two hitters. Javier Baez struck out on a wild swing and then Bryant whiffed as well.
“We have to score the runner from third with less than two outs with something other than a home run,” a frustrated Maddon said. “We’re just hitting home runs to score runs. We have to become more efficient moving the baseball. I’ve been talking about it for three years now.”
The Cubs rank last in hitting with runners in scoring position in the NL after going 0-for-14 over the weekend. For perspective, their .217 batting average is 10 points lower than the next worst team (San Diego), and a ridiculous 106 points lower than the best team (Colorado).
“You have to get to the point where you move the ball and make adjustments,” Maddon continued. “Middle of the field, opposite field, get the home run out of your head. If it happens, it happens. We just got too big there.”
Maddon and his players understand they got beat by a very good team that is playing really good baseball right now. The Dodgers did everything right and even survived one of the worst starts of Kershaw’s career.
“That was a pretty impressive pitching performance on all days,” Bryant said. “We got to Kershaw a little bit. But their bullpen — it just felt like every pitch was right there at the top of the strike zone to all of us. It was unbelievable.”