Why the Cubs’ awful offense could trigger full rebuild if downward trend continues this summer

The Chicago Cubs are sitting 4-6 after another loss on Monday night. They started the season 3-1 but have lost five of their last six games and the offensive numbers they are putting up are downright, well, offensive. The company line to this point has been the very-reasonable, “it’s early,” with manager David Ross leading the charge. And while you can’t blame Ross here — first off, it’s true; second, what else is he supposed to say? — there’s an awful lot of context behind this start that paints a grim picture for the Cubs’ upcoming summer.

Let’s keep in mind that contained in the Cubs’ 4-6 record is that they’ve played six games against the Pirates. That Pirates team might end up being the worst in the NL or even the majors. The Cubs went 3-3 and were outscored 26-19 by the Pirates. The Pirates are 0-4 and have been outscored 36-10 when they don’t play the Cubs. Yes, the Pirates are allowing nine runs per game against Not Cubs but a touch over three per game against the Cubs. 

It’s already looking bad, and we’re barely even getting started. 

  • At .164, the Cubs are dead last in the majors in batting average, 28 points away from 29th place. 
  • At .264, they are dead last in on-base percentage. 
  • Yep, their .321 slugging percentage is also last. 
  • They strike out 28.8 percent of the time, which is the worst in the NL and only trails the Orioles and Rangers in all of baseball. 

Here are the batting averages and OPS+ of the regulars: 

As a team, the Cubs have a 66 OPS+. For those not very familiar with the stat, that means if you lump their on-base percentage and slugging percentage together, adjusting for ballpark and league context, they are collectively 34 percent worse than a league average hitter. 

And then, perhaps worst of all, look at this …

This isn’t exactly the Yankees in terms of having a decorated past. There have been some low lows in Cubs history, and yet, this is the worst 10-game stretch ever for the Cubs’ offense at getting hits. Hits. We aren’t talking about a home run drought or too many strikeouts or a stretch without stolen bases. We’re talking about hits. Hits!

Now, here’s where we talk about small samples and how it’s early and all that. The problem is that this isn’t new. The Cubs won the NL Central last year, but they hit .220/.318/.387 as a team with mostly the same personnel (swapping out Kyle Schwarber for Pederson isn’t a huge difference, skill-set-wise). Sure, there was lots of context behind that, including that it was only a 60-game season during a once-in-a-century pandemic. 

If we looped that back in, though, we’re now talking about a 70-game sample with pretty terrible offense. Back another year, one of the complaints about the Cubs from 2019 was too much boom-and-bust. That was, they’d go a stretch scoring little or no runs and then would explode and it would make their overall stats a bit deceptively good. Well, the boom is gone now. In 10 games, the Cubs have scored this many runs per game, sorted by most to least: 5, 5, 4, 4, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 0. 

Unable to string hits together, four of those runs have come on sac flies while 14 of their 29 runs have come on home runs. Ross pointed out after Monday’s loss they seem to be too offensively-reliant on the home run, but the problem with the home runs isn’t necessarily the percentage. It’s that 10 of their 12 home runs have been solo shots. No one is ever on base. If there was more traffic, those 12 homers might’ve resulted in something like 20 runs and they could be 6-4 or even 7-3 right now. 

Instead, this has all the makings of a pretty terrible offense, baking in the context of how their six games against the Pirates’ went. 

Speaking of the schedule, here is what is upcoming for the Cubs. 

  • Two more in Milwaukee, facing stud starters Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes, legitimately one of the best 1-2 punches in baseball
  • Three games against the Braves
  • Three against the Mets, including one against Jacob deGrom
  • Three more against the Brewers
  • Four more against the Braves
  • Three games against the Reds, who look tough and have a 1-2 combo of Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray (who will presumably be back by then)
  • Three against the reigning World Series champion Dodgers

After looking at the context behind this season’s record so far, the context behind the numbers and knowing what we know about the recent history with this offense, it’s pretty tough to think the road for these Cubs through May 5 is anything but incredibly ugly. 

If that comes to fruition, all of sudden things become pretty interesting for the rest of baseball, too. 

Former Marlins president David Samson broke down the Cubs situation on the latest Nothing Personal with David Samson. Listen below:

Rizzo, Bryant and Baez are free agents after this season. The Cubs look like they need to start over or at least start transitioning. That means trade talk.  

Bryant looks every bit a player that would be a major difference-maker for any time from some point in July and beyond. Baez, too, though he can look atrocious on any given plate appearance before completely turning it around (take Monday night, when he looked lost all night but then had a two-strike, two-RBI double in the ninth). Rizzo would need to start hitting to have value, but that’s entirely possible given his track record.

Contreras is a free agent after next season and could end up landing something nice in return if there’s a market for a starting catcher. Like Rizzo, he’d probably need to hit a lot better but the track record suggests it’s possible. 

Teams are always looking for relievers and the Cubs have a 2.93 bullpen ERA with 59 strikeouts in 40 innings this season. If you wanted to zero in on a big fish, have you watched Craig Kimbrel at all? He has faced 14 batters and recorded 14 outs with nine of them being strikeouts. Last time out he entered with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth, striking out two to leave the bases loaded and then working a perfect ninth. He has his cocky, in a good way, swagger back, too. 

Trading any or all of these players would help stock the farm system and there’s already lots of payroll coming off the books before the 2022 season with almost nothing there, post-arbitration, past 2023. 

The big picture here is pretty simple. The Cubs’ offense is as bad as it’s been in a while, but it’s been trending this way for years. Things are stale with the current group, but they are also ripe for new club president Jed Hoyer to get a pretty big haul this summer in looking to turn things back around on the North Side in the next few years, reshaping the roster both with new prospects and in free agency.

For the next month or so, though, Cubs fans, better get ready to hold your noses. The most likely outcome is that it’s going to continue to stink.

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