McGraw: Considering Cubs history, this September slump is mild

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On Sept. 6 after sweeping San Francisco, the Cubs were 1½ games behind both Milwaukee for the division lead and Philadelphia for the top wild card. They had a 4-game lead over Arizona, which sat fourth in the wild card standings.

By Monday, they trailed the Diamondbacks, dropped into a tie with Miami for the final wild card slot, and might as well concede the NL Central to the Brewers. And they lose tiebreakers to Arizona, Miami and Cincinnati.

The Cubs have gone 2-8 since Sept. 6, dropping six of seven to Arizona in the process. They had Monday to regroup before opening the final homestand of the regular season against Pittsburgh and Colorado.

As September swoons go, this is barely a blip in franchise history. The ’69 Cubs went from a 5-game lead to 2 behind the Mets in a span of eight days. It took 15 years to recover from that collapse, but it also happened when there were two divisions and no wild cards, so times are very different.

The biggest take-away from this 10-game slump: It’s been a buildup of little things. Starters, bullpen, lack of clutch hitting, uncharacteristic errors and bad baserunning are equally to blame.

The only regular you could say is really in a hitting slump is Cody Bellinger, who hit .174 on the six-game road trip. Nico Hoerner hit .423 last week, Ian Happ .348, Yan Gomes .333. In limited action as backup catcher, Miguel Amaya was 3-for-7.


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Clutch hits with runners in scoring position is an obvious problem. The Cubs scored 3 runs on double plays during the last two games in Arizona. Three of the 5 home runs they hit on the road trip happened in the ninth inning Friday after falling behind 6-0.

The pitching hasn’t been terrible, but every starter has either been less sharp than usual or couldn’t make it through six innings, which then taxes the short-handed bullpen.

Some problems have defied explanation. Justin Steele is second in MLB in home run rate, but allowed two 3-run homers on Friday. Ian Happ dropped a line drive in the gap at Colorado, leading to 2 unearned runs. It was just his second error of the season. He had 3 errors last year and won a Gold Glove.

If the Cubs fail to make the playoffs, fans will be wondering all winter if the players got worn down. Manager David Ross kept saying he planned to stick with the regulars, then complained about the hectic schedule on the way out of Colorado.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

The Cubs certainly had a difficult start to the month with the Sept. 1 doubleheader in Cincinnati, followed by consecutive 90-degree day games and two sets of night-day turnarounds at Wrigley Field. The five lineup stalwarts — Bellinger, Happ, Hoerner, Dansby Swanson and Seiya Suzuki — have started every game in September. Of course, no one knows if rest days would have helped.

Another likely truth is the Cubs are what their record says they are. They underachieved in May, overachieved in August. They look good when the bullpen is healthy and rested. Jeimer Candelario was a nice boost at the trade deadline, but he eventually cooled off and is now on the injured list with a sore back. Relievers Adbert Alzolay and Michael Fulmer are also on the IL.

The midseason analysis that the Cubs were a couple bats and couple bullpen arms short of being a good team still holds true, especially with three key players on the injured list.

One last test remains. When the Diamondbacks arrived at Wrigley Field on Sept. 7, it was with a sense of desperation. Their playoff hopes were on the line.

The Cubs were flying high back then, but now they’re the desperate team. Or at least, they should be. They’ll be favored in every game this week, so there’s still time to get hot.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        



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