Chicago Cubs: Second-half struggles continue against lowly Padres

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs continued their slow start to the second half of the season by dropping two games to the San Diego Padres over the weekend.

The Chicago Cubs entered the All-Star break on fire, winning 13 of their final 17 games, moving them to a National League-best 55-38. Over the 18 games since the break, the North Siders have gone just 9-9.

In the second half, the team’s play has been uninspiring. They’ve struggled against teams they should beat, splitting a four-game set with the worst team in the National League – the San Diego Padres.

Even bad teams get hot, but the Padres came into the series at Wrigley just 2-9 since the break and had lost seven games in a row. A four-game split doesn’t typically warrant a negative reaction, but against a team the likes of the Padres, more is expected.

The Cubs have also played eight games against their arch-rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals, post-All-Star break. The teams typically play competitively despite their overall records on the season but splitting the eight games against a fledgling Cardinals team working through a managerial shakeup was disappointing.

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The Cubs could’ve delivered a knockout blow, putting the Cardinals 10 or games out of first place in the NL Central. Instead, the Cardinals remain in striking distance, albeit 7. 5 games back.

What’s the cause of the Cubs second-half struggles?

Surely not the bats, right? The Cubs have the highest-scoring offense in the National League and have scored 81 runs during the 18 games since the All-Star break; the problem is inconsistency at the plate. The Cubs have scored 45 of their 81 runs in six of those games. They’ve also had six games where they’ve scored three runs or less.

Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Ben Zobrist have all hit well post-All-Star break, but some of the guys who had been knocking the cover off the ball have slowed down tremendously.

Ian Happ is batting just .182 and slugging below .300 over this stretch. Addison Russell has struggled, slashing .229/.275/.271. Worst of all, Albert Almora Jr. is hitting .178/.196/.222 since the break. Almora’s .418 OPS is the sixth-worst among MLB players with at least 40 plate appearances in the second half of the season.

An inconsistent offense has plagued the Cubs not just in 2018, but for the last few years. A problem new to the team this season has been the poor starting pitching.

Going into Sunday’s games, the Cubs starters had posted a 5.38 ERA in the second half, good for fifth worst in MLB. The only teams worse than the Cubs have been the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, and the Padres. As a World Series contender, it’s troubling for the Cubs to see themselves listed in the same sentence as those teams.

Jon Lester, the team’s only consistent starter in the first half of the season, has been struck by the regression monster over his last eight games. In those starts, Lester has a 6.42 ERA. He’s struck out 30 batters and walked 20 in those 40.2 innings, a far cry from his 2.26 K/BB rate in his first 15 starts.

Lester’s poor stretch was capped off by allowing 10 baserunners in just 5 innings of work on Sunday. Lester spoke about his struggles after the game:

"Not really up to anybody’s expectations. I felt like I had really good stuff today. Once again, no swing-and-miss stuff. Figure it out. Little rut right now. Keep grinding."

Despite the slow start to the season’s second half, the Cubs still own the best record in the National League and they continue to pace the NL Central. With 51 games left to play, the Cubs don’t need to panic. They just need to buckle down and work out of this funk.

They didn’t take advantage of their matchup with the lowly Padres, but the Cubs open a three-game series on the road against the Kansas City Royals on Monday. Righting the ship against the 34-77 Royals may be paramount to the Cubs, as their three following series are against the playoff-hopeful Washington Nationals, Milwaukee Brewers, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

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With Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow, and Yu Darvish all likely coming off the disabled list throughout the next few weeks, there is hope on the horizon. The Cubs may not have made a splash at the trade deadline, but having three All-Star caliber players rejoining the roster in the near future should be a huge boost to a team looking to get hot and enter the playoffs on a run.