There have been times where this season’s Cubs have looked respectable. There have been times, especially against the White Sox, where this team looked downright good. None of those times have come against the division. In a season where there was some optimism from the team about being a sleeper to compete, and the fans expected a step forward, the early results against the division have been anything but promising.
Against all teams not in the NL Central, the Cubs have been interesting. Their 18-17 record against non-divisional opponents reeks of respectability. The offense and pitching come together and play solid baseball. The 7-21 mark against the division is where the disconnect lies. They have only won one series in the division, the first series of the year at Pittsburgh. They have not won a single series against the division at home. And the only team they don’t have a losing record against in the division is St. Louis, who they’ve split two games with. The Cubs haven’t won a home game against the Reds all season, and today stretched that mark to 12 straight losses, which is the most an opponent has won at Wrigley consecutively since the 1956-57 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Why the terrible performances against the division? The bullpen is a culprit, because they have blown some leads against division teams in the same ways they’ve blown some against non-division teams. The biggest contributor to the problems has been the offense, though. The Cubs cannot find any way at all to push runs across the plate against the division. Only three times have they managed five or more runs in a single game, where their record is 2-1. The Cubs have been shutout four times this season, all coming against the division. They have scored two of fewer runs against the division 12 times, with a record of 1-11, including the four shutout losses.
One of the most common ailments that gets talked about with the Cubs is the inability to beat left handed starters. The Cubs have had 22 such games this season. They are, again, respectable against lefties outside of the division, with a solid 7-7 mark for this team. The 2-6 mark against the division is where the struggles have been concentrated. And it is not a situation where they’re losing to pitchers they’ve never seen. The Cubs have seen a lot of Wandy Rodriguez over the years with the Astros, and now the Pirates. Francisco Liriano has looked like Sandy Koufax in his starts against the Cubs this year…and he’s a guy with a career ERA of over four.
To me, the answer is simple. There is no organizational urgency to perform against the division. When you see four teams 19 times each, those games matter more because those games comprise just about half of the schedule. At the current rate, the Cubs are staring a 19-57 divisional record in the face. A .250 winning percentage against the division is pathetic by any standard. While the pace of this season is not quite at 100 losses, it’s damn close, and the division is the reason why.
Many fans unfairly criticize the manager, Dale Sveum. If there is one place where he deserves some criticism, it is in this case. Yes, it is up to the players to perform, but the manager must prepare the team, and this team is obviously in way over their heads against division foes. And it isn’t like Dale isn’t familiar with the other teams in the division. He was with the Brewers before coming to Chicago. And coaches Jamie Quirk, Chris Bosio, and Dave McKay have all been in the division, too. There is familiarity with the opponents. So even though the team may have a lot of young and new pieces without that experience against the common opponents, the coaches should all have full books on each and every one of the four division rivals.
I can’t believe, in spite of everything I’ve seen, that the Cubs will finish 19-57 against the division. It can’t be that bad. Even though all of the pronounced losing streaks through have been at the hands of the division, including a current 1-5 home stand against the Pirates and Reds, there has to be some positive regression. There are 48 divisional match-ups remaining. The hope should be a clean split, which would be consistent with the way they’ve played everyone else. Unfortunately, with the loss of the Astros to the AL West and the Cardinals, Reds, and Pirates all playing well, that could be just a touch optimistic.
And in no way should hoping for a 31-45 record for any 76 game block be what we have to hope for.