Cubs’ Biggest Issue Has Been Finishing Weekends, Series Strong

The Cubs have a whole lot of individual issues — lack of power, unreliable bullpen, etc — but all of those factors combine with a little bad luck and some strategic flaws to create a much bigger problem. Sunday’s loss in San Francisco dropped them to 2-9 on Sundays, a trend we’ve looked at previously, and 1-6 after winning the first two games of a series. They are also 5-16 overall in weekend games and 4-16 in the planned final game of a series (so we’re not counting the second game if the third is rained out), big enough samples to avoid being dismissed as purely coincidental.

So what, then, is the root cause? More than a few fans will be happy to blame David Ross for being a bad cook who falls back on meatloaf way too often, an idea that isn’t without merit. There’s also the fact that the team has gotten poor performance from left-handed hitters who still need playing time and might be getting it more frequently in the games in question. I guess that goes right back to Ross making out the lineup, it’s just a different facet.

Then we’ve got the bullpen issues, which are more likely to impact games later in the week or series based on teams getting breaks on either Monday or Thursday. If you have to burn your best relievers to win the first two games, you need to cross your fingers and fill those Sunday innings somehow.

One other possible factor, and I don’t even like bringing it up because it casts aspersions and can’t really be quantified, is that the players themselves are sort of dialing back in some of these situations. I suppose we could find statistical evidence to either support or refute that notion, though I’m not sure it would do us much good. All that really matters is that playing weekend baseball at just a game below .500 would put the Cubs at 33-32 overall.

A more realistic scenario of playing three games shy of .500 over those 21 contests would see them at 32-33 and just 2.5 games behind the Pirates for first place. They’d be very much in the Wild Card conversation as well, not to mention being in a position to buy at the deadline. Of course, they haven’t played well on weekends or series closeout games and they are 6.5 games behind the Pirates as of Monday afternoon.

It’s not just the fact that they’re losing, which is obvious, it’s how they’re losing.

Remember how the Cubs once had an excellent run differential due to their strong pitching and defense? They’re now at -13 overall with a -22 on Saturdays and -36 on Sundays. They are -45 in the final game of each series, including five games in which they’ve allowed eight or more runs. The Cubs are -20 in the third game of a series after having won the first two, a number that takes into account their 12-2 win over Oakland back in April.

There are a lot of things going wrong on the North Side right now, but the total inability to finish off games in particular situations stands above the rest. Or rather, it’s built firmly on the foundation of those other issues. The Cubs now play six of the next nine games against the Pirates with three against the Orioles (41-24) in between. Then they have the London Series against the Cards, which might offer a chance to hit the reset button.

Even if it’s too late by that point, I’m just hoping for a less maddening brand of baseball at some point in the near future.

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