Cubs' kryptonite: Left-handed starters
May, 22, 2013
By Jesse Rogers
PITTSBURGH -- Even before spring training, (Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum talked about the organization needing more left-handed hitting. They’ve acquired it to some extent.
But the problem with that notion is what to do when a left-handed starter is on the mound for the opposition. Could the Cubs be too left-handed?
They went down to defeat yet again against a southpaw on Wednesday, just as they did on Tuesday. This time it was Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano who shut them down in a 1-0 final.
“We just can’t seem to do absolutely anything against a left-handed starter,” a frustrated Sveum said after the game.
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsFrancisco Liriano was just the latest left-handed pitcher to freeze the Cubs' batters, allowing just two hits in seven innings Wednesday during the Pirates' shutout win.
The Cubs dropped to 4-10 in games against left-handed starters, and in most of those affairs -- win or lose -- they’ve done little at the plate.
“Today you have to tip your cap to Liriano,” Darwin Barney said. “He kept you off-balance.”
We’ve heard that from Cubs before, especially Sveum. How many great left-handers are there anyway?
He applauded Wandy Rodriguez both on Tuesday and in the team’s second game of the season when he shut them down. Then there was Derek Holland of the Texas Rangers and Madison Baumgarten of the San Francisco Giants. The list goes on and on. Sveum worried about his right-handed hitters against right-handed pitchers this spring, but it’s been the lefties that have killed them.
The Cubs did have one threat -- a bases-loaded, no-one out situation in the third inning, with the top of the order coming up.
“That’s the song and dance,” Sveum said after seeing three straight outs. “We get people on and we just can’t get them in.”
Julio Borbon has not looked good in the leadoff spot the last two nights. He was 1-for-8, with the hit coming on a dribbler to first that he beat out. Then there was the at-bat Wednesday with the bases loaded when he again dribbled one to first.
“When you have a guy like Liriano doing what he was doing, you have to make the most out of that,” Borbon said after the force out at home on the play.
But what is Borbon doing leading off two nights in a row against lefty starters anyway? The Cubs only have two right-handed outfielders, Alfonso Soriano and Scott Hairston, the latter of which is hitting below .100 against left-handed pitching. The mix just doesn’t feel right.
“Whenever you don’t do the job, you want the at-bats to be better,” Sveum said. “We were ahead in the count in all three cases and let the bat get away from us.”
The last four Cubs losses have been by one run. Clutch hitting has escaped them against lefties and righties all season, and a .287 on-base percentage against lefties is as mediocre as it gets. Starlin Castro had one of those at-bats with the bases loaded and failed. Anthony Rizzo had the tying run on base several times Wednesday but couldn’t get it done against a lefty either.
At some point there has to be a breaking point for the starting staff that has pitched so well.
“Take it with a grain of salt,” Jeff Samardzija said. “You can only control what you can control.”
Against lefties this year, the Cubs haven’t controlled much.
“That’s the problem. We’re relying on our pitchers to drive runs in.” -- Sveum, only half-kidding about the Cubs offense.
“It’s just the way the game goes sometimes. Other times you get a win and give up five runs.” Samardzija, on tough-luck losses.