Cubs offense is all or nothing

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs can hit home runs. They’re second in the National League after hitting two more on Tuesday in a 4-2 loss to the Washington Nationals.

And they get their extra-base hits. They lead the NL by a wide margin in that category.

But they’re just 10th out of 15 teams in runs scored.

It’s one of the stranger aspects of Chicago's season. One that both the manager and general manger often lament.

“It is what it is right now,” Dale Sveum said after the game on Tuesday night. “We score on home runs. Today both solo home runs, from [Brian] Bogusevic, and the [Donnie] Murphy show continues, with a home run and a double. Hopefully that continues, because we’re struggling everywhere else right now.”

Where the Cubs continue to be challenged is getting on base in front of those home runs. Their .302 on-base percentage for the season ranks 14th in the NL, and their 77 solo home runs ranks fifth in the league.

“It’s something we’re going to have to address this offseason,” general manager Jed Hoyer said on Monday.

It’s another example of how home runs and batting average and stolen bases and most other statistics don’t correlate with runs scored. The one stat that does matter is on-base percentage.

“We have to take more walks,” Hoyer has said repeatedly.

As in most years, the top on-base percentage teams are the ones that usually score the most. St. Louis ranks first in both categories in the NL. The Atlanta Braves are third in on-base percentage and second in runs scored. The Cincinnati Reds rank fourth in both categories.

Home runs are great -- so are extra-base hits. But unless they come in bunches or with more men on base via walks, the Cubs offense will be exactly what it is: all or nothing.

On Monday they had it all in the form of five home runs and an 11-1 victory; on Tuesday it was two solo shots and a 4-2 loss. Unfortunately, there’s been more of the latter than the former, and that has to change for Chicago to become a complete offense.

Five home runs are a luxury that won’t happen often. Grinding out runs with hits and walks is how the good teams do it. The Cubs aren’t one of them yet.