Another day, another lifeless effort from the Chicago Cubs offense. The Cardinals came away with a 3-2 victory on Wednesday and have a chance at taking three out of four in the series on Thursday night. We’ll see Adbert Alzolay for the Cubs and Kwang Hyun Kim for the Cardinals, as St. Louis is a modest favorite with a total of 8.5 across most of the market.
The Cubs offense continues to underwhelm. With so much talent and so many big names, it is crazy to think about just how pedestrian this offense has been for a long time now. I talked about it coming into the season, but the Cubs have really not been a great offense for a long time now. In 2017, they had a 101 wRC+. In 2018, they had a 100 wRC+. In 2019, they had a 102 wRC+. In 2020, they had a 92 wRC+. Here in 2021, the Cubs have a 90 wRC+.
Promising hitters and veterans with track records have underperformed the last two seasons and really didn’t perform to that high of a collective level from 2017-19. They were effectively a league average offense in that time period. They’re not even close to that now and have been a really poor offense throughout most of this season.
The one thing that the Cubs do is hit for a little bit of power, but they have a .226 batting average with a .280 BABIP and a .306 OBP. That just isn’t going to get it done without elite pitching and the Cubs do not have elite pitching.
Chicago’s lack of offensive upside could be attributed to a 26.2% K%, but it seems like so much more than that. They do rank 12th in Hard Hit%, so you would expect some better outcomes, but they’re also sixth in GB%. You don’t manufacture runs in today’s MLB anymore. When you look at a lot of the teams with high ground ball rates, they are underwhelming offenses.
Lump the Cubs into that group. They’re also facing a very solid pitcher today in Kwang Hyun Kim. Kim has a 2.87 ERA with a 3.78 FIP this season and a 2.45 ERA with a 3.81 FIP in his MLB career over 117.1 innings. Low strikeout rates have kept his FIP on the high end, but Kim also has just a 7.9% HR/FB% in his 24 appearances. His career Hard Hit% is just 33.6% and his Barrel% is just 5.3%. He’s got a solid command profile and doesn’t need the strikeouts to be effective, a la yesterday’s Chicago starter, Kyle Hendricks.
The Cardinals aren’t setting the world on fire offensively themselves. In fact, they rank 22nd in Hard Hit%. They don’t hit for a lot of power either. They’re a singles offense and that simply doesn’t work in 2021. However, one benefit for St. Louis is that the Cardinals put a lot more balls in play with a much lower K% than the Cubs.
Adbert Alzolay has struck out over a batter per inning and has a good walk rate, but he has allowed a lot of home runs and a lot of hard contact. Alzolay has a Hard Hit% of 42.7% with an 11.1% Barrel%. There is and has been a very high correlation in the Statcast era, which dates back to 2015, about teams that win and the teams that have the better contact quality in a game, specifically in terms of hard-hit balls and barreled balls.
While the Cardinals offense can be rather punchless at times, this is a better matchup for them than what the Cubs have. Alozlay has been very fortunate to post a .237 BABIP against and has allowed 18 HR in just 82.1 innings of work. Alzolay has a .213 batting average against with a xBA of .246. There are regression signs in the profile and that is a bad sign for a guy whose ERA is already 4.59 with a FIP north of 5.
I’m also concerned about the headspace for the Cubs right now. Beating the Diamondbacks is one thing because Arizona is terrible, but facing comparable or better teams with the Trade Deadline looming seems like a challenge. As it is, the Cubs are now 8.5 games out of first place and have virtually no chance at the Wild Card.
Neither do the Cardinals, but they’re in a different space right now, as they aren’t going to bid adieu to a bunch of players at the Trade Deadline.
I’ll take the Cardinals with the short number today.