Pressure cooker: Joc Pederson breaks through, but slumping Cubs lose againon April 8, 2021 at 12:10 am

Like every other hitter in a struggling Cubs lineup, newcomer Joc Pederson tells himself it’s early, there’s no reason to panic — just keep grinding and eventually his stroke will come.

But in his eighth season in the big leagues, that’s still easier said than done.

“I think everyone feels a lot of pressure,” Pederson said after the Cubs were held to three hits in a 4-2, 10-inning loss to the Brewers on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. “Speaking for myself, it’s a lot. You come to a new place, a lot of fans. I just had a really good spring. I had a high expectation for myself and I’m assuming they do as well. And you’re not getting the job done in situations where you can audit just kind of adds up.”

Pederson’s predicament exemplifies the lineup-wide hitting slump that marked the opening homestand of the 2021 season. He was the Cubs’ hottest hitter in spring training — a .387 batting average (17-for-45) with eight home runs and 19 RBIs. But everything changed once the bell rang.

In previous years, Pederson got his first hit of the season early — the second at-bat as a rookie in 2014; then the third, third, second, seventh, first and second at-bats of the season the following six years with the Dodgers. With the pressure of impressing new teammates and new fans, he was 0-for-15 after a strikeout in the first inning and fly out to the edge of the warning track in center against dominant Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff.

Pederson felt he was getting close with the deep fly out, and sure enough he was right. In his next at-bat in the eighth inning, Pederson crushed a 96-mile-an-hour fastball from standout Brewers reliever Devin Williams for a no-doubt-about-it home run to right field for a 1-1 tie.

No matter how sure he was that he would eventually find his groove, he admitted the homer — just the safe hit — was “a big relief.”

“It was huge,” Pederson said. “There was … just grinding to start the season, just to get the first one, especially in front of the fans — it’s a little more pressure than normal. It was a big relief just to get on the board and tie the game up and give ourselves a chance to win. It felt good.”

The Cubs lineup as a whole could use the same sense of relief. While their early slump is certainly a small sample size, it’s also historically poor. After becoming the first team in modern baseball history to get three-hit, two-hit and one-hit in their first five games, they were no-hit for six innings by Woodruff on just 56 pitches.

At that point, the Cubs were 0-for-34 since Kris Bryant’s double in a 4-0 loss Tuesday night and 1-for-45 since the seventh inning of Monday’s 5-3 victory in the series opener. Nothing was working.

“We tried to jump on the fast ball — didn’t have a lot of success,” manager David Ross said. “But we continued to fight.”

Ian Happ’s single to right field past diving second baseman Daniel Robertson to lead off the seventh inning broke up the no-hitter. Pederson’s homer matched Lorenzo Cain’s homer off Alec Mills in the top of the eighth. After Cain’s three-run homer off Brandon Workman (0- 1) in the 10th, the Cubs rallied for a chance to steal it. Jason Hayward hit an RBI single and walks to Tony Walters and pinch-hitter Willson Contreras loaded the bases with two outs before Happ flied out to left to end it.

That left the Cubs 3-3 on the opening homestand but with a lineup in need of an infusion. The Cubs’ .124 team batting average is the second-lowest through six games in modern big-league history, according to research via Their leading hitters are batting .200 — Kris Bryant (4-for-20) and Eric Sogard (2-for-10).

But Pederson’s big hit provided some hope.

“Everybody’s just trying to get comfortable,” Pederson said. “Hitting’s contagious. We all can be a little bit better. But it’s still super early. We have some really talented [hitters] and when we get clicking, it’s going to be fun to be a part of, and it’s coming soon. So just enjoy the show.”

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