The Cubs just endured their first prolonged slump of the season, a rocky 4-5 road trip that pushed Twitter angst to its highest level of 2016. But c’mon, people, you knew they were going to play poorly at some point during the season. Even the 1927 Yankees had a rough couple of games here and there.
I’m going to say something that may seem counter-intuitive at first, but bear with me. The Cubs did not really play all that poorly during this road trip. There is even a case to be made that the Cubs should be quite encouraged after this trip.
I know what you are thinking, Cubs fans: “Surely you can’t be serious?” Well I am serious and don’t call me Shirley. During the Cubs’ nine-game roadie they had a +10 run differential of +10, though blowout victories in St. Louis and San Francisco definitely had an impact on that number. Even with those two romps removed, the run differential is still a very respectable -6. The Cubs were defeated by a grand total of 7 runs in their 5 losses on the trip and it could be reasonably argued the Cubs had a chance to win every game they played.
The offense — particularly Anthony Rizzo, though I’m not concerned about him — had some issues in Milwaukee and San Francisco, but it wasn’t all bad news. To say Ben Zobrist performed well is a bit of an understatement. Zobrist collected a hit in every game of the road swing and had at least three hits in three of the games. Jorge Soler also showed signs of breaking out of his early season slump, tallying seven hits (two home runs!) and four walks during the trip.
Joe Maddon also praised Georgie Sunshine’s improved baserunning and defense (one dropped fly ball at Busch aside) over the last few games.
The Cubs also got very good pitching, especially from the starters at the bottom of the rotation. John Lackey, Jason Hammel, and Kyle Hendricks posted a combined 2.59 ERA with 32 K’s during their six starts on the trip. Despite their solid performances, though, the three Cubs hurlers posted a just a 1-3 record. The only really bad road start was put up by Jon Lester in San Francisco. For the most part, the bullpen provided adequate support before faltering in St. Louis.
The Cubs’ biggest struggle was probably hitting with runners in scoring position (RISP). During the first seven games of the trip, they were 9-for-48 in those situations. Len and JD did a very good job the other day of explaining how RISP hitting depends a lot on luck: hard hit balls find gloves, players strike out in key moments, two hits can be sandwiched around a double play. Luck was definitely not on the Cubs’ side in Milwaukee and San Francisco, but they were 13-of-28 with RISP over the last two games in St. Louis.
I will close by saying no fan should be disappointed by the Cubs road trip. They began it at 18 games over .500 and ended at 17 games over. The bottom of the Cubs rotation looked very good and Soler had his best stretch of the season. Jake Arrieta had his first non-quality start in a year and the Cubs still won the game. And, most importantly, the Cubs beat the Cardinals two out of three in St. Louis. It turns out the Cubs horrible, no good, just plain bad road trip really wasn’t that big a disaster after all.