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Cubs feeling stranded during rough road trip

The Cubs haven't been able to come up with many hits with runners in scoring position. Icon Sportswire via AP Images

SAN DIEGO -- Fortunately, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon already has white hair, because watching his team hit with men on base would age anyone.

Monday was a low point, as the Cubs earned 10 walks against the last-place San Diego Padres, put two more men on base via hit-by-pitches and managed only two first-inning runs in a 5-2 loss. They were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, which means they're 1-for-24 on their so far winless road trip.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cubs are the 177th team in the past eight seasons to walk at least 10 times in a game. Their three hits Monday were the fewest by any of those teams.

"That's a formula that usually shoots out more than two runs," first baseman Anthony Rizzo lamented after the loss. "You just keep playing. That's all you can do. We left a lot on today. That's unfortunate."

That has been the theme on offense for quite a while, as the Cubs finally came up with a hit that scored a run without the ball leaving the ballpark. It had been a week since that happened, but the Cubs went right back to stranding runners after Jason Heyward's two-run single in the first inning. Their batting average with runners in scoring position this season is a league-worst .215.

"The good thing [is that it] means we're due," Rizzo said. "The law [of] averages mean we're due for a big outbreak. Once it does come, we'll be on it for a while.

"We all need to take a deep breath. Exhale and relax a little bit."

He might as well be speaking to a nervous fan base that had high hopes for a repeat championship. But with a record of 25-25, finishing with a winning record might be the goal right now. Fortunately, the Cubs are in a division where no one has pulled away. That's the good news.

"We look at that. We see where we are. But we have to focus on ourselves and play Cubs baseball the way we know how to play," Monday's losing pitcher, Kyle Hendricks, said.

The starting staff has its own issues, but a frustrating question mark revolves around the Cubs' young core of hitters. They did so much damage on the biggest stage last season but can't seem to get in gear this year. Kyle Schwarber saw his average drop to .173 after an 0-for-4 afternoon. Javier Baez also went 0-for-4, and Addison Russell is batting only .220 after he hit a triple to open the second inning Monday.

Guess what? Between a few more walks, he was stranded there.

"Everyone is trying too hard," Maddon said. "Take what they give you, play with the middle [of the field]. You have to convince them to do it. It's not complicated. You can see the big swings coming out of our zone when just a single will do."

On Sunday, Maddon referenced the fact that he has been preaching these ideals for three seasons. The Cubs were able to get away with some lackluster hitting the past two seasons, thanks to a historically good starting staff. That's no longer the case. The offense needs to do its part. Maddon was asked if there is anything he can do to change the results.

"I have no idea what that would be," he said. "We've tried everything possible. Guys have been rested. These are our players. I have all the faith in the world."

Fans, however, might be hoping that Maddon changes the lineup in hopes of sparking production. It seems that moving Schwarber down in the batting order could only help, rather than hurt. It's a good idea, but it doesn't answer why Rizzo left five on base on Monday while Heyward and Baez stranded four each. This isn't about one player. One player doesn't achieve a league-worst team average with men in scoring position by more than 10 points.

"That's the real tale of the tape," Maddon said of stranding runners. "We just have to be more efficient.

"We did it before. We can do it again. We just have to keep talking. But that's when you have to use the velvet hammer as opposed to the real one. Otherwise, they have no chance whatsoever."

No one wants to hear it, but Rizzo might be right. The law of averages should tilt in the Cubs' favor at some point. Taking so many walks leads to better pitches to hit, which should lead to more hits. The Cubs are first in the NL in free passes, but that doesn't mean the hits will come all the time. They need to weather the storm better, but at least the team understands the situation.

"It's not peachy right now," Rizzo said. "We have urgency. We're grinding."

Almost all the goodwill the Cubs built up over a winning homestand is gone, as they've dropped four games in a row, and the latest was against one of the worst teams in baseball, which was returning from an East Coast trip to play a holiday day game.

The Padres walked only once themselves -- a meaningless free pass in the eighth -- but had the big hit (grand slam) when they needed it.

"We just came off a 7-2 homestand a couple days ago," Maddon said. "Everyone loved us a couple days ago, and now all of a sudden we've had a tough time scoring runs on the road. We just have to do better."