ATLANTA -- Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum keeps saying he wants “slugging percentage” guys in his lineup, especially when the opposing pitcher is a lefty. But after Mike Minor of the Atlanta Braves shut down the Cubs Friday night -- two days after lefty Wandy Rodriguez of Pittsburgh did the same -- he may have to re-think his lineup plans.
“Nobody is swinging the bat at all right now,” Sveum said after the Cubs' 4-1 loss. “Someone has to step up and get hot. Hopefully it’s the whole team at one time.”
Dave Sappelt is supposed to be a killer against southpaws but he has yet to have a hit in two starts so far. Same with David DeJesus. Starlin Castro is hitting .188 through four games, Anthony Rizzo just .083. Scott Hairston has one hit, a home run on Friday.
“It was one of the very few mistakes (Minor) made tonight,” Hairston said. “The one I hit out.”
And the Cubs aren’t being patient at the plate. Minor threw only 84 pitches in 7 1/3 innings, an average of about 11 pitches per inning. That’s stunning. The Cubs are last in the National League in batting (.133) and last in on-base percentage (.188).
“Once the ball wouldn’t fly like it would normally, guys start expanding the zone,” Sappelt said. “I know I did.”
The Cubs have started the season with an inordinate amount of fly ball outs to go along with 39 strikeouts, which ranks second in the league right behind the Braves. But Atlanta has seven home runs, the Cubs have two.
The fly balls are a result of the Cubs' strategy of attacking high in the strike zone and lying off the low, borderline pitches. That was the message in spring training, throughout the organization. But it’s the pitch selection that matters.
“It’s too soon to call it struggling,” Hairston said.
At some point the excuses will start to run out. The cold weather was to blame in Pittsburgh and now it’s simply too soon to worry -- and both might be valid. But it has to change or a lot more pressure will fall on the pitching staff. Pressure they can’t bear.
“We’re not going to win a whole lot of games unless we start scoring some runs,” Sveum said. “We’ve scored seven runs in four games now.”
Which means they’re fortunate to be 2-2.