Cubs’ struggles with runners in scoring position cost them in series vs. Reds

The Cubs’ offensive rut resurfaced in Sunday’s 5-2 loss to the Reds.

The Cubs (29-31) were 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Entering Sunday’s game, the Cubs had the sixth-lowest batting average with RISP (.226) and the 12th-lowest OPS.

The Cubs have now lost six straight series and sit 7.5 games back of the Brewers in the National League Central. They’re now 7-12 against divisional teams this season.

“We didn’t create a lot of pressure overall,” manager Craig Counsell said. “[Reds starter Nick Lodolo] is a good pitcher, but we had some rallies; they stopped with a man on second and [we] couldn’t get the next hit to cause a big inning and put the pressure on him.”

The Cubs scored twice when they had a man advance to third base. Outside of center fielder Cody Bellinger and second baseman Nico Hoerner, no other Cubs player provided much offensively.

After falling behind 4-0 in the second inning, starter Ben Brown and the pitching staff rebounded, allowing just one run over the next seven innings. Brown had his worst outing as a starter, allowing a season-high five runs, but he kept the game within reach, striking out six and walking one.

But the series loss was due to an offense that mustered 13 runs over the weekend.

Though they mustered seven runs in Saturday’s game against the Reds, the Cubs were still a paltry 2-for-13 with RISP. At a certain point, the lack of success has to weigh on hitters when they enter the box.

“It’s almost an effort of trying too much and putting too much pressure on yourself to get the job done as opposed to just sticking with the plan, myself included,” said Bellinger, who had a three-hit game. “Everyone wants to be the guy, and it’s hard when the game is hard enough when you’re not playing free.”

The Reds made Brown pay on multiple 0-2 counts, but the Cubs couldn’t do much damage against the Reds’ pitching staff.

The Cubs don’t have a consistent power hitter to generate those big innings, but they have players such as left fielder Ian Happ, Bellinger, Hoerner, and shortstop Dansby Swanson, who have shown that they can rack up doubles at an average rate. The heart of the lineup has to give the team a lift.

“Hitting with runners in scoring position certainly determines the outcome of games,” Counsell said. “There’s a ton of numbers to look at, and it’s certainly a number that we haven’t been good at for a pretty good stretch now.

“It’s tough to come up with a coaching point to say how to be better at it. It’s hitting, it’s the same as hitting with nobody on base. We’re just not getting it done in those situations.”

The team doesn’t seem too concerned, chalking it up to the rhythms of the season. But losing winnable games catches up to you. Last season’s playoff chase resulted in players being worn down during the stretch run. But there isn’t a coaching point Counsell can use to get better results. The team’s best players have to produce, or the spiral will continue.

“We have a lot of really good baseball players,” Bellinger said. “Early on in the season was how we expected to play coming out of spring training and we’re all feeling good. It’s been a pretty difficult stretch. A lot of us have been through some difficult stretches before. It’s just happening right now and we’ve got to continue waking up and striving to be the best you can be.”

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