Revived Cubs flatline in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- As quickly as the Chicago Cubs found success earlier this month, they seemed to take an even quicker route back to the depths of substandard play.

So much for that recent sign of life as the Cubs were outscored 23-1 in a three-game series to the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals and had parts of their game exposed that finally seemed to be on track.

The offense that had come to life after the late June arrival of Anthony Rizzo returned to its struggling ways. The Cubs entered the series batting .304 with runners in scoring position this month and promptly went 0-for-13 in that category against the Cardinals.

The bullpen, which had righted itself of late, was clobbered while giving up 12 runs in one inning Saturday night, while the starting pitching took a blow as Travis Wood gave up seven runs and nine hits on Sunday.

“To score one run coming in here it was tough because we were playing well,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Guys were swinging the bats better and getting big hits. I don’t think we had but two extra-base hits in the series too let alone not getting any big hits when we had opportunities.”

There were even more gruesome numbers from the weekend. The Cubs were swept for the seventh time this season, they went 3-for-39 (.077) with runners on base and didn’t have a hit in their last 22 at-bats with a runner on base.

“We talked about it coming out of the break that (hitting with runners in scoring position) was one thing we needed to do better of to win ballgames,” Sveum said. “That’s always going to hurt us because we’re not going to hit balls out of the ballpark on a consistent basis.”

It was also the first time the Cubs endured back-to-back shutouts since May of 2006 when the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Diego Padres blanked them on consecutive days.

“They had pretty good pitching the last three days but I think we were too aggressive just because we knew they had good pitching,” Alfonso Soriano said. “I hope we forget about this weekend and start again tomorrow.”

It won’t get any easier. The Cubs are now headed to Pittsburgh to face a red-hot Pirates club that is on its first five-game win streak since 2010 and is a season-high 14 games over .500.

“Their pitching has been great and the last three or four weeks they have been scoring a lot more runs and swinging the bats,” Sveum said of the Pirates. “You have some guys swinging, Casey McGehee is swinging like he did a couple of weeks ago and (Andrew) McCutcheon is having an MVP-type season. They are working on all cylinders no doubt about it but their pitching staff has been really, really good.”

According to the ESPN Stats and Information crew, McCutcheon is on pace for a .372 batting average, 38 home runs and 114 RBIs, with only six players hitting those numbers in a season: Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, Todd Helton, Stan Musial and Chuck Klein.