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Sunday, May 8, 2011
Cubs hitting, just not in the clutch

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs have been hitting the ball all season, but for some reason, when men get on base their bats have gone silent. The Cubs are hitting .268 (second best in the NL), but with men in scoring position their average plummets to .213 (second worst in the NL).

Manager Mike Quade believes that if the team continues to get hits, eventually they will come when men are on base. However, that didn’t happen again this weekend as the Cubs went 4-for-24 with runners in scoring position and stranded 25 men in their three-game set with the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds won two of the three games, including Sunday’s finale, 2-0.

Statistical anomalies like the Cubs’ inability to hit in clutch situations usually have a way of evening out. Either the Cubs batting average will drop or they’ll start to drive those runners in scoring position home. Of course, Quade is hoping for the latter.

“There’s no magic formula, you just have to keep being patient,” Quade said. “Try and realize that [the pitcher] is in trouble, you don’t need to be in a hurry to do your damage… but that goes against human nature.”

Starlin Castro
The Cubs' Starlin Castro left the bases loaded in the seventh and was 0-for-4 on Sunday.
Right now the poster boy for the Cubs’ struggles has been Starlin Castro. After a torrid start, Castro finds himself in the midst of a 7-for-51 slump with only one extra-base hit in that span.

Quade attributes Castro’s recent struggles to pitchers forcing him to expand his strike zone and Castro failing to make the proper adjustment. Quade believes once Castro’s plate discipline improves, it will bring an end to his slump.

“He’s made so many great adjustments and he’s come so far,” Quade said, “Now he’s going to have to make this one.”

Castro isn’t the only one that’s struggling with the bat. Aramis Ramirez is in a slump of his own, going 6-for-38 in his last 10 games, and has been stuck on one home run since April 6.

“It’s been tough to get extra bases here lately. The wind’s blowing in [almost] every day,” Ramirez said. “But there’s nothing you can do about it. I’ve been here for a while and I know this is going to happen early in the year. Hopefully [the offense] comes sooner than later.”

Ramirez admitted that it’s difficult to be patient when the offense is struggling, but he pointed out that you can’t change what you’re doing at the plate. Ramirez asserted that, especially with veterans that have had previous success, they have to stay confident things will turn around and that making drastic changes will only prolong the issue.

Bright spot: Starter Ryan Dempster delivered his second straight strong outing (7 IP, 2 ER, 5 H, 4 K, 0 BB) since posting the worst line of career when he gave up seven runs in 1/3 of an inning on April 28 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Anything’s better than the way I was pitching,” Dempster said, summing things up quite nicely.

Dempster attributed his recent turnaround to his ability to locate his pitches better and keeping the ball low in the zone, inducing more groundball outs. He’s also eliminated the walks -- after walking the first two batters on eight pitches in his last start he hasn’t handed out a free pass since -- which is always key to a pitcher’s success.

“He looks more in control of himself, like he’s got it figured out,” Quade said. “He’s come to grips with some of the things he needed to figure out and he put together two quality starts.”

Quade is sure that if his starters keep giving him outings like the one Dempster delivered today, the wins will eventually come. However, for that to happen, the Cubs are going to need to get some runners across home plate.

“Sooner or later you relax and get it done,” Quade said. “Or you don’t, the struggle continues and you come back the next day and try and get it done.”

Samardzija settling in: Over the past three-plus seasons, Jeff Samardzija has been sent back and forth between the minors and big leagues and his role has frequently changed. Other than some flashes when he was first called up in 2008, Samardzija never really lived up to his draft-hype, either as a starter or a reliever.

However, after posting a 1-2-3 eighth inning today, Samardzija has now put together 14 straight scoreless innings. His walk count is a little higher than he’d like (nine during his scoreless streak, 18 on the season), but it’s an impressive run nonetheless.

“It’s about going out there and repeating what you’re doing, taking confidence to the mound and going from there,” Samardzija said. “Q’s been putting me in some great situations, some tight games, letting me work some innings.”

Samardzija’s emergence adds to an already solid bullpen led by Carlos Marmol, Kerry Wood and Sean Marshall. His continued success could lead to the Cubs boasting one of the strongest bullpens in the league.