5 Observations: Cubs struggle vs. Nationals

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The Chicago Cubs came into their East Coast road trip hoping to take advantage of two teams who haven’t been playing their best baseball, but instead they’re returning to Chicago having lost six of seven games and falling below .500 on the season.

Here are our five observations on the series.

One-Run Losses Kill the Cubs 

The Cubs lost three straight one-run games to the Miami Marlins over the weekend, and their performances in close games didn’t exactly improve in the nation’s capital, as they dropped two more contests by just a single run.

Overall this season the Cubs are now 2-7 in one-run games, and their difficulty in scoring runs with runners in scoring position has been magnified in each of those losses.

It culminated Wednesday against the Nationals, with Eric Hosmer nearly bunting into a double play with runners on first and second with nobody out, and then Patrick Wisdom really grounding into a double play to end the game.

Thursday saw a similar situation play out, as Cody Bellinger and Wisdom both struck out with runners on second and third with nobody out, and then Trey Mancini flew out to end the game.

Starting Pitching a Bright Spot as Offense Struggles

The Cubs did have chances to win nearly game on their road trip, and their starting pitching deserves a lot of the credit.

After another sterling outing by Drew Smyly Monday, Hayden Wesneski allowed just one earned run in six innings of work in Tuesday’s loss. Marcus Stroman followed that up by allowing one run in six innings Wednesday.

The team’s bullpen wasn’t able to hold the Nationals at bay in those games, but the team’s offense wasn’t doing them any favors. Speaking of which….

Patrick Wisdom Starting to Slow After Hot Start

Wisdom has hit plenty of home runs for the Cubs this season, but his offensive production has started to slow in recent games.

In his last 10 outings, Wisdom is now 6-for-31 with 15 strikeouts, including three in Thursday’s loss to the Nationals.

The worst of the bunch came with one out in the ninth, with Seiya Suzuki on second and Ian Happ on third base. After a Bellinger strikeout, Wisdom fanned as well, leaving the game tied at 3-3.

Of course Alex Call then led off the bottom of the ninth inning with a game-winning home run, sending the Cubs to defeat.

The one silver lining for Wisdom? His on-base percentage is essentially unchanged over his last 10 games, as he’s continued to draw walks to reach base for the Cubs.

Keegan Thompson Getting Hit Hard

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Thompson had surrendered at least one walk in eight consecutive appearances

While he was able to keep from adding to that streak, he did allow three earned runs, continuing a recent run of rough outings.

Thompson has now allowed five earned runs in his last two innings of work while having zero strikeouts and a pair of walks. He was tagged with losses Sunday in Miami and Tuesday in Washington.

Velocity concerns had dogged him in spring training, but location has become an issue, so it’s worth keeping an eye on.

Ross’ Decision-Making Questioned Late in Games

While the players bear the brunt of criticism for their performance in late-game situations, Ross’ decision-making during Wednesday’s loss attracted some pushback.

With runners on first and second and nobody out in the ninth inning, Ross chose to have Eric Hosmer try to lay down a sacrifice bunt. Hosmer, who has just three successful sacrifice bunts in his MLB career, hit the ball too hard to third base and nearly grounded into a double play.

Ross then inserted Nelson Velazquez into the game as a pinch-runner, but he didn’t get a chance to make an impact as Wisdom bounced into a double play to end the game.

The decision to have Hosmer bunt was likely designed to advance runners and stay out of a double play, but calling for it from a hitter without any semblance of a track record of success seemed like an odd choice.

Ross likely would have been better off allowing Velazquez to simply hit instead, and then the decision was compounded when he didn’t send Velazquez on a steal, allowing Wisdom to bounce into a double play.

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