By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The struggles of Cubs pitchers have put more pressure on the team’s offense.
With their starters allowing more first-inning runs quicker than any staff in baseball, the Cubs have had to play catch-up in numerous games. On Sunday night, left-hander Jon Lester continued that trend, then was outstanding the rest of the way. Lester allowed two runs, one earned, in seven innings on three hits in an eventual, marathon 5-4 loss to the Yankees in 18 innings at Wrigley Field, a setback that had manager Joe Maddon chastising his hitters in a manner that he usually doesn’t.
“We had an epic strikeout performance,” Maddon said of his team’s franchise-record 26 strikeouts. “We have to do better than that. We have to make adjustments. Guys start to try and hit home runs. We just have to try and piece it together.”
Many Cubs hitters struggled mightily on the just-completed seven-game homestand, which ended with a sweep at the hands of the Yankees. Anthony Rizzo was a non-factor with a 3-of-29 showing, while Addison Russell went 3-of-26, Kyle Schwarber went 4-of-23, Jason Heyward was 1-of-13 and Willson Contreras was 3-of-25.
Rizzo played through pain for the final half of Sunday’s marathon after taking a 99-mph fastball from Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman off the forearm with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, a sequence that forced home the run that tied the game at 4-4. That completed a three-run rally by the Cubs off Chapman.
Rizzo got an X-ray between the ninth and tenth innings.
“In three minutes, they told me there was no break,” Rizzo said. “The trainers wrapped it, I took a Tylenol and went back out to my position.”
The Cubs (16-15) have come from behind to win 10 times this season, a fact that speaks to their resiliency and also the strain on the offense.
“The pitchers always want to have a lead if they can,” Rizzo said. “As position players, you always want to feel you are in striking distance. We usually are. Playing from behind is really good for us to come together as a team. At the same time, we would like to score runs from the get-go. A win is a win no matter how it comes. Every game is different.”
That was certainly true Sunday as the Cubs played their longest game since Aug. 15, 2006, at Houston. The Cubs and Yankees combined for 48 strikeouts, the most ever in a big league game.
The Cubs’ 154 runs this season are the seventh-most in baseball. Their 3.93 ERA as a team in 13th in MLB, while their starters’ 4.64 ERA is 24th and the root cause of falling behind so much.
“Everybody is looking at our offense,” Maddon said. “It is a nice offense, but last year it was all about our starting pitching. The pitching was so good it created a disparity with the numbers. Yes, we are the proverbial pressing offensively. When you are behind, you try a little bit more. (Having a lead) is an added advantage for the other team’s pitcher pitching. It is part of the game and part of the cycle. I have so much confidence in these hitters.”
The Cubs open a three-game series against the Rockies on Monday night at Coors Field.
“If we were hitting on all cylinders and the starting pitchers were pitching to their optimal situations, I would be concerned,” Maddon said. “I am not. All these guys will pitch better. They will hit better. Overall, starting pitching drives the engine. When you are doing that right, everything else has a better chance. When we pitch better, we will play better.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.