Cubs offense improves, but wins don't follow
The Cubs are walking the fine line between encouraging and disappointing.
They were competitive last week against the White Sox, Brewers and Cardinals, but should have done better than a 5-6 record.
Maybe learning how to finish off games will be the next step, but this week's AL East road trip concludes with three games in Yankee Stadium against the team with the best record in MLB.
"I think the resiliency of the group's been really impressive to me," manager David Ross said. "I think we know our strengths and weaknesses. We've got to play clean games."
The offense has shown signs of life. During the past 15 days, the Cubs lead all of MLB in both walks and stolen bases, an unlikely turn of events based on recent history.
They're also top 5 in runs scored and batting average. The improvement could be attributed to the arrival of Christopher Morel from the minors. He's been an ideal fit in the leadoff spot, reaching base in all 20 games he's played.
The Cubs will have some decisions to make with David Bote and Jonathan Villar ready to come off the injured list, but it's hard to imagine Morel will ever be sent down or leave the leadoff spot. Outfielder Seiya Suzuki is likely to return from a sprained finger at some point during the road trip.
At the same time, some of the streaky Cubs hitters have been on heaters, like Willson Contreras, Ian Happ and Rafael Ortega. Backup catcher P.J. Higgins (.314) is hitting well in his second turn in the big leagues.
"The offense has actually been pretty impressive to me," Ross said. "We've got a new spark in Morel as of late that's helped us play a little bit better baseball and give us a really good hitter at the top of the lineup. We still have a lot of guys out. I think we've got a lot of potential to be better than our record would show right now."
With all the good signs, it was a frustrating week for the Cubs, filled with poorly-timed mistakes and missed opportunities. Here's a quick rundown:
• They carried a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning against the White Sox, then took a 2-run lead in the 10th, but ended up losing 5-4 in 12.
• Two errors led to 3 unearned runs in a 8-7 loss to Milwaukee, spoiling the major-league debut of Matt Swarmer.
• In a 3-1 loss to the Brewers that same day, the Cubs loaded the bases with nobody out while trailing by 1 in the seventh inning and couldn't score.
• In the past two games, the Cardinals delivered a clinic in how to scrap out victories. On Saturday, they fouled off nine pitches from Cubs reliever Mychal Givens on the way to loading the bases with 3 walks.
That led Ross to bring in closer David Robertson to finish the seventh inning. He escaped from two bases-loaded jams before the Cardinals finally won in 10 innings.
The extended stint made Robertson unavailable on Sunday and the Cubs couldn't hold a 1-run lead in the ninth, Then they failed to score in the bottom of the 10th after Daniel Norris kept St. Louis off the board in the top of the inning. The end result was the Cubs' third extra-innings loss of the week.
The Cubs lead MLB in 1-run losses with a 6-13 record, and that doesn't even include the last two against the Cardinals. They're playing better, but still need help.
• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports