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Chicago Cubs had some horrible moments on offense in May — and their record reflects those struggles

MILWAUKEE — The Chicago Cubs’ weekslong quest for a big inning finally happened Tuesday.

Manager Craig Counsell didn’t want to go as far as to say Wednesday that the five-run 10th inning the night before against the Milwakee Brewers felt like a breakthrough for a lineup that has struggled throughout May.

“I don’t know if it does, nobody knows,” Counsell said. “This is the question that’ll be asked for the rest of time in sports. … You want to believe it. But what happens is you have to go out and you have to swing at the right pitches and you have to hit it where they aren’t. You have to hit it hard and make contact. That’s why we fall back on process, process, process in this sport so many times. You just try to do those things and then it kind of falls where it is.”

The Cubs showed some encouraging signs with four hitters delivering multihit games in a 10-6 loss Wednesday. But it doesn’t erase them possessing one of MLB’s worst offenses this month. Their production has been bleak across the lineup. Without a hot bat or two, the Cubs (28-28) have trudged through May relying largely on their pitching staff to win games. There haven’t been many offensive bright spots when evaluating the group’s production.

The good

Christopher Morel and Dansby Swanson’s expected statistics

Unluckiness can affect any hitter, though some more than others. Morel and Swanson have been on the wrong side of the ball bouncing their way this month. While their slash lines haven’t looked good, their expected metrics indicate they are swinging the bat better than the results indicate.

Morel and Swanson rank in the top 13 among big-league hitters with the most extreme difference between expected wOBA and slugging percentage versus their actual numbers. Most notably, Morel ranks thirrd with minus-0.074 between his xwOBA (.373) and his wOBA (.299) in May. For Swanson, he sits 13th with a minus-0.051 difference from his xwOBA (.324) and wOBA (.273).

Morel was again unlucky Wednesday when he was robbed of a two-run home run to center field in the second inning on a 405-foot barreled ball that featured a 101.5-mph exit velocity with a .670 expected average. It would’ve been gone in six ballparks, including Wrigley Field.

“The expected stuff is important, those are real important statistics to help you make good decisions,” Counsell said. “They don’t help you go through struggles. Guys when they’re swinging the bat good and not getting results. … That’s the game of baseball, there is bad luck in the hitting game of baseball.”

Ian Happ is heating up

The Cubs desperately need a couple of hitters to get going, and Happ appears he’s starting a hot streak.

Entering Wednesday, the left fielder was 7-for-23 (.304) in his last seven games with six extra-base hits. Then he collected another multihit game Wednesday with another home run, his third in four games. He nearly added a double to his stat line, but Brewers center fielder Blake Perkins robbed him with a diving catch in the seventh.

“My swing’s feeling good, the at-bats have been really good, just getting a couple pitches I can handle,” Happ said Wednesday. “You’re not always going to get the results, but those good swings, keep stacking those and the results will come.”

Happ is known for going on great streaks, and if this is the start of one, it would go a long way toward helping the lineup break out of its prolonged funk.

Walk rate among league best

Even as the hits haven’t been falling, the Cubs have employed an approach that is still getting guys on base.

Their 9.4% walk rate in May is third-best in the majors behind the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies. Their issues to produce runs with runners on base and in scoring position hasn’t allowed the Cubs to fully take advantage of working counts and drawing walks, but it should yield good results over the course of the season.

“Swing decisions are one of the big pillars of hitting for sure,” Counsell said. “It’s something that I think you can be a little more consistent on generally and it’s probably an overall strength of the group.”

The bad

Strikeout rate

Conversely, the Cubs’ contact issues are fueling their run-scoring woes.

Over the last month, their 24.9% K% is tied with the Oakland Athletics for fourth-highest in the big leagues. Happ had been among the Cubs most susceptible to striking out before appearing more locked in the last week. But they have been most hurt by Michael Busch’s 39.2% K% in May. His strikeout rate is second-worst among 176 qualified hitters. The Cubs need to find ways to generate more contact and put the ball in play, both to put pressure on the opposing defense and hope some hits go their way as they work to produce more hard contact.

“I think we are appropriately aggressive,” Counsell said. “It’s got to be at the right pitches and you have to also take your at-bats to your strengths. That’s really important that you play to your strengths.”

Problematic weak contact

It would be one thing if the the BABIP gods were thwarting the Cubs at an obscene level.

But there haven’t been even many opportunities to get burned that way because of how infrequently they have produced hard contact the last four weeks. Only the White Sox — by merely 0.4% — have created less hard contact than the Cubs’ 26.8% hard-hit percentage during this stretch. The Cubs aren’t even giving themselves a chance to hit their way out of this by failing to consistently slug the ball hard.

Coupled with too few line drives (16.3% LD%, 30th) and affected at times by infield fly balls (12.4%, seventh), the Cubs need to solve their lack of hard-hit balls.

The ugly

Runners in scoring position futility

When the Cubs have put runners in scoring position, they aren’t capitalizing.

The Cubs are last in the majors with a .200 average and .279 slugging percentage while owning a 71 wRC+ (29th). Their hitters might be collectively trying a little too hard in those situations, but regardless, the offense will struggle to get back on track if it can’t more consistently produce in those moments.

Wednesday represented a familiar scene. The Cubs had chances to chip away at the Brewers’ six-run lead through three innings but finished 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base in the loss.

Searching for power

Two metrics highlight the Cubs’ futility when it comes to power numbers: ISO and wRC+.

The Cubs sit near the bottom in both categories this month, keeping company with some of the worst teams in baseball. Stringing hits together has been a problem, but their inability lately to drive in runs with home runs adds to the challenge.

The .124 ISO (tied for 25th) and 85 wRC+ (27th) has made the Cubs offense especially tough to watch.

“The hard part is there’s no team meeting to snap your fingers and do it,” President Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. “You have to come out of these things. We don’t know when, but I’m very confident we’ll come out of this and we’ll start scoring runs and I do think there will be a cumulative exhale.”