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Cubs Continue to Embarrass

By Garrett Monaghan

The Cubs continued a miserable road trip on Thursday, losing 6-5 to the Tigers as Detroit completed a three-game sweep. Ted Lilly was ineffective through six innings surrendering six runs on ten hits, including a two-run homer to a miserably slumping Magglio Ordonez.

Jake Fox staked Lilly to a three run lead by belting his first major league home run during the first inning, but the Cubs were unable to hold the lead. Things got interesting in the ninth when Micah Hoffpauir launched a lead-off homer to greet Tiger's closer Fernando Rodney and Kosuke Fukudome hit a two-out double, but Rodney struck out Geovanny Soto to end the threat and earn the save.

The Cubs were up to their usual tricks during the series, going 2-for-29 with runners in scoring position. This continues to be a colossal problem for the Cubs, as they're now batting a Major League-worst .218 with runners in scoring position on the season. This is inexcusably bad, even for the Cubs. I don't really buy Pinella's continued excuses that "guys are just trying to hard." There's something wrong with the approach Cubs hitters are taking in scoring situations, and it's really pretty simple: everyone's trying to pull the ball and hit home runs. When the Cubs (or any team for that matter) are at their best, they're focusing on hitting the ball where it's pitched and making solid contact.

Last year, when the Cubs led the National League in just about every offensive category, their right-handed hitters totaled 611 plate appearances in 156 games where they hit the ball to the opposite field. That works out to about 3.9 plate appearances per game. When going the other way, right-handed Cubs hit .336 last year. This year, right-handed Cubs have hit the ball to right field in only 167 plate appearances over the course of 62 games. That works out to 2.6 plate appearances per game. When going the other way this year, Cubs right-handers have hit only .267. There's a certain degree of luck involved here, but clearly, the 2009 Cubs have gotten considerably more pull-conscious.

An inability or unwillingness to hit the ball to the opposite field isn't the only problem the Cubs offense has had this year, but it does highlight a distinct difference between this year's team and last year's. We can find another difference if we look at the statistics for line drives.

The Cubs hit line drives a league-average 19% of the time in 2008. This year, that number is down to 16%, well below the league average and good for last in the National League. This might not seem like a huge problem, but when you consider that line drives turn into hits approximately 75-80% of the time, even a slight reduction in the number of line drives being hit can translate into drastically reduced number of hits.

It still remains to be seen if Von Joshua can turn the Cubs' offense around, but the numbers seem to be pretty clear about what the problem is. If we look at the most productive offenses in the National League, the Phillies and the Dodgers, we can see that they hit the ball well to the opposite field, and hit a lot more line drives than the Cubs. If the Cubs want to have a chance of making the post-season, they're going to need to go back to the basics.

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