The Cubs’ offense has been under plenty of scrutiny as the season has wound down and the division race with the Milwaukee Brewers has got tighter and tighter.
Indeed, the bats haven’t been as hot as they were earlier in the year. The Cubs entered Saturday afternoon’s game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals with just a .238 batting average and a .302 on-base percentage in September.
But if you watched Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Cardinals and reached a sky-is-falling conclusion thanks to a meager run total, there might be a need to pump the breaks.
First thing’s first, the Cubs went up against a tremendous pitcher in Miles Mikolas, who continued his road dominance this season with his 10th win (compared to zero losses) away from St. Louis. The 2018 All Star picked up his 18th win of the campaign by allowing just one unearned run, which came on a two-out dropped pop up in the first inning. Second baseman Yairo Munoz makes that play, and the Cubs could’ve been shut out.
Mikolas went eight innings in a must-win game for the Redbirds, whose own playoff hopes remained alive after the game. Even the best lineups can’t always solve the best pitching, and that’s what Mikolas has been this season for the Cardinals.
“You really have to look at Miles,” Cole Hamels said. “The guy’s been lights out all year. He’s been one of the best pitchers. … He’s great, and he delivered exactly what he’s capable of doing and what he expected and what they needed. It made it tough for us.”
Mikolas ended up dominating the Cubs this season: In four starts against them, he gave up four earned runs in 26 innings.
You might read all that and argue, “But the Cubs are going to see nothing but good pitchers in October. What kind of excuse is that?” And you’d be right. Of course, this lineup shouldn’t be expected to go score eight runs off the best arms the game has to offer. But the Cubs agree with you: They’ll be facing nothing but the best from here on out.
“They’re all good at this point,” Ben Zobrist said. “Every pitcher we’re going to face from this point on has done really well this year and is established. They’re all playoff games to us right now.”
That’s where the second part of Saturday’s story comes in: The Cubs did hit Mikolas all right. No, the results don’t show that, but they were hitting balls hard all over the yard. Problem is, they didn’t end up following the oldest of baseball axioms: Hit ‘em where they ain’t.
Cubs hitters made plenty of solid contact, and a Cardinals team that experienced many a fielding woe in Friday’s series-opener made the plays this time. The Cubs launched a few balls into the sky, and on a different day they probably would’ve ended up in the bleachers. Instead, the inward-blowing wind knocked them down and into the gloves of Cardinals outfielders.
Even after Mikolas departed, Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo and Javy Baez smacked a trio of hard-hit balls right at defenders in the ninth inning.
It’s not a time of season where a lack of results often gets shrugged off. But really, what more could they have done?
“The balls that we did hit hard, unfortunately, were caught,” Zobrist said. “We had a couple opportunities there, but you kind of need those balls to drop in or get those line drives to get through to kind of break through in a game like that against a pitcher like that. … We just didn’t get the breaks today.”
“That’s kind of the tough part in baseball,” Hamels said. “You’re going to have days when you hit the ball hard and it’s right at people. As a pitcher, it’s kind of nice. But being able to watch that as your teammates are grinding through at-bats, really hitting balls hard (with) unfortunately nothing to show for it, you have to let them know, ‘Stay with it.’ It’s just not the day that those were going to fall in.”
Obviously, one bout of bad luck can make the difference in a playoff game. It would become ever so intensified in a wild card game, where the margin of error is so small, and after Saturday’s loss, the Cubs could very well find themselves in that situation.
But the outcomes in one game cannot provide an accurate forecast of how an offense will perform over the course of a five-game series a week from now against a completely different pitching staff.
And Saturday’s case, in particular, with how the Cubs hit the ball in such an unlucky fashion, probably doesn’t even an accurate projection of how the bats will fare Sunday.
“If we’re able to hit balls like we did, probably going to have a few hits that are going to drop in and score a couple runs from them. That’s kind of the nature of baseball,” Hamels said. “I think that’s why there’s 162 games because you’re going to see crazy stuff. You see games where guys are scoring runs because they’re not hitting the ball hard at all, and then you have teams that are hitting the ball hard and nothing to show. It’s a game of inches.”