CHICAGO – The Cubs went gently into their All-Star break Sunday.
The good news for the Cubs after their sleepy 3-1 loss to the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field is that they’re still in first place in the National League Central. Their 47-43 record keeps them one-half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers.
The bad news for the Cubs is that Sunday’s game typified why they can’t put any distance between themselves and everybody else in the division.
So all parties are feeling disappointed, yet fortunate.
“I’ll take it in that regard,” said manager Joe Maddon, whose team is 18-25 since last reaching its high-water mark of 11 games over .500 (29-18) on May 22. “Our maladies were exemplified today or personified by just the offense. We were just unable to capture that offensive way. We’ve just got to ride it. Somehow, we’ve got to figure that component out.”
Here is the long and short of Sunday’s day at the plate:
• The Cubs left a runner stranded in each of the first four innings. They led off the fourth and fifth with doubles but failed to score.
• In the eighth, Cubs batters saw a grand total of six pitches. Javy Báez grounded out on the first pitch of the inning. After Kris Bryant walked, Anthony Rizzo grounded into a double play on the first pitch.
They also were beaten by Sox starting pitcher Ivan Nova, who is 4-7 with a 5.58 ERA.
“I thought that second time through [the batting order] we became less patient,” said Maddon, whose team was 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position. “I think that was part of it. If anything, I want to continue to pound on that [with the hitting coaches] with the group.
“It’s not about video study. It’s not about knowing sliders, curveballs, whatever, any more than we already know. It’s about organizing our strike zones.”
Bryant, who headed to Cleveland for the All-Star Game after Sunday’s loss, said it’s about something else, too.
“I don’t know. I don’t have an answer,” he said. “Maybe just not press as much. You can’t control when you get your hits, but maybe have better at-bats.”
On the pitching side, Kyle Hendricks (7-7, 3.49 ERA) lasted four innings, giving up four hits and two runs, both coming on a home run to former Cubs prospect Eloy Jiménez (his 16th) in the fourth.
It was Hendricks’ second start off the injured list after a bout of shoulder inflammation. He said he felt out of rhythm – he threw 25 of his 86 pitches in the third inning – but healthy.
“It’s huge to go out there and just feel normal,” he said. “At least I can put that out of my mind and really just get back to focusing on what I’ve got to do, task at hand. Fastball command just has to be better overall and just attacking, being more aggressive.”
Randy Rosario relieved Hendricks and got two quick outs in the fifth before Brad Brach gave up a homer to José Abreu. The Cubs got a second homer of the season from newcomer Robel Garcia in the seventh.
Even though the Cubs are a first-place team, Bryant said he knows how the fans feel.
“We’re just as greedy as any fan out there,” he said. “We want to be 10 games ahead. There’s a lot more breathing room, but it just hasn’t been that way for us this year. Yeah, first place is great, but we’ve missed a lot of opportunities to separate ourselves, and that’s kind of the frustrating part. We just all have to play better, and I know we can do it.”