For Cubs, April showers still falling in May as slide continues

Cubs pitcher Kyle Hendricks dubbed the Cubs’ 4-3 loss Wednesday, “a baseball day,” after White Sox center fielder Luis Robert robbed Cubs catcher Willson Contreras of a game-tying RBI double.

“I thought we played pretty well,” he said. “We made some pretty good plays out there, put together great at-bats, had some chances there late and just hit balls right at guys. Just one of those things.”

This weekend marks the one-month mark in the season, and the Cubs enter the three-game series against the Dodgers with a 9-15 record, sitting in fourth place in the National League Central, behind the rebuilding Pirates.

The Cubs have won three of their last 14 games. So, how much of that rut is baseball’s fickle nature, and how much calls for an adjustment?

For the rotation, the answer is pretty plain. The first time through the rotation, each starter threw at least five innings and allowed one run or less. But then, Hendricks, Justin Steele and Marcus Stroman started battling rhythm issues.

Steele, finding himself rushing after a pair of strong starts to begin the season, hasn’t pitched more than three innings in each of his past three outings. But sloppy play behind him was a factor in the Cubs’ 9-1 loss at Milwaukee last Saturday, and he saw improvement in his own form.

Stroman, feeling out of sync early on, has made steady progress each time out. That culminated in seven shutout innings at Milwaukee and the Cubs’ only win in a three-game series against the division leader last weekend.

Hendricks is still searching for consistency from start to start, looking like vintage Hendricks one day and struggling with the same issues that plagued him in 2021 the next.

“That was definitely more on track,” Hendricks said of his last start, despite allowing four runs in 5 2/3 innings against the White Sox Thursday. “It wasn’t like those two bad games I had in April. It was more along the lines of the good ones I had, establishing my fastball down and away, had good angle, getting balls on the ground, bad contact. So I need to just keep focussing on those good things and move with that.”

So, three of the Cubs’ starters are making, or have made, adjustments. And help is on the way. Left-hander Wade Miley (left elbow inflammation) headed out on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa Wednesday, for a Thursday outing.

So, what about the offense?

Through the Cubs’ first three series of the season, they were averaging 9.44 hits per game. And who could forget their 21-0 victory against the Pirates a couple weeks ago. But the Cubs have scored multiple runs in just three of their past eight games.

Some of that has to do with the quality of pitching the Cubs have faced in recent weeks, including the No. 2 rotation in the major leagues (the Brewers, 3.13 ERA), and the Braves’ one-two punch of Max Fried and Charlie Morton. But the Cubs’ strong start included some tough matchups too, including Milwaukee’s Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.

The Cubs have also been striking out more recently, reaching double digits in six of their past seven games. And for a team with a contact-oriented profile, especially compared to years past, strikeouts have a greater impact.

A few key Cubs hitters are going through lulls, including Frank Schwindel (.205 batting average) and Seiya Suzuki (3-for-32 in his last eight games). That will happen throughout the season, as different hitters cycle through the regular ups and downs of a long season.

“These guys are working hard. I don’t think anybody needs to get back to anything, I think we just need some results,” Ross said after the Cubs’ loss Wednesday. “The top [of the batting order] wasn’t our strong suit tonight. The guys at the bottom kind of carried us.”

In that game, Nico Hoerner, batting sixth, and Patrick Wisdom, batting eighth, both homered to drive in all three of the Cubs’ runs. Nine-hole hitter Nick Madrigal went two-for-three. His evaluation might sound familiar.

“I really don’t think we’re far off or need to change game plans or anything,” Madrigal said of the offense. “I just think it’s part of baseball.”

On Deck

DODGERS AT CUBS

Friday: Tyler Anderson (2-0,2.55 ERA) vs. TBD, 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM / 1200-AM.

Saturday: Clayton Kershaw (3-0,2.35) vs. Justin Steele (1-3,5.50), 1:20 p.m., Marquee, 670-AM / 1200-AM.

Sunday: Walker Buehler (3-1,2.12) vs. Marcus Stroman (1-3,5.13), 6:08 p.m., ESPN, 670-AM / 1200-AM.

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