OF struggles at center of Cubs' hitting woes

CHICAGO -- Pointing out that the Chicago Cubs' offense has struggled in the early goings of the season is stating the obvious. Through 14 games, the Cubs have averaged 3.36 runs per game, 13th in the National League and after being shutout in both ends of a doubleheader against the New York Yankees on Wednesday, they've now played four games where they've failed to cross home plate.

When focusing in on the outfield, the Cubs' offensive struggles become all the more glaring. So far, manager Rick Renteria has tried to play the matchups, attempting to give his team the platoon advantage. However, the early results haven't been too favorable.

Nate Schierholtz had success in 2013 mainly playing against righties, however in 12 games he's putting up a line of .250/.260/.313 and the numbers in the outfield only get worse from there. Ryan Kalish: 11 games, .160/.250/.280, Ryan Sweeney: 11 games, .172/.242/.207 and Justin Ruggiano: nine games, .143/.250/.190.

Despite those weak numbers, Renteria has no plans to change things up.

"We're still trying to do the best we can with trying to match up guys and move them forward," Renteria said. "(We're) taking it slow with other guys, kind of helping them ingress into the big-league market here, so to speak. To me it's really early to make a determination if someone is ready to be changed out for another. These guys are all preparing the same way. I will be the last one to panic. I believe in all of these guys."

One guy Renteria has to be pleased with thus far is Junior Lake. The only regular outfielder (not counting Emilio Bonifacio, who also sees significant time in the infield) to see any success through two weeks, Lake is posting a respectable .826 OPS with two home runs, two doubles and a triple.

However, a deeper look at his numbers, particularly his .381 BABIP and eye-popping 36.6 percent strikeout rate, reveal his solid start may not be sustainable. If his numbers start to slip and the other continue to flounder, the production from the outfield would be next to nothing.

Renteria reiterated that it's too early to start thinking about changes or calling guys up from the minors just to shake things up. Overall, he believes his team has played well, they just haven't delivered in big situations often enough.

"Situationally the last couple days we've had some opportunities to be able to push some runs across," Renteria said. "Maybe we've become a little anxious with our approaches at the plate. Not putting ourselves in a position or the frame of mind that the pitcher is on the ropes in a particular situation. Maybe we get outside of ourselves a little bit wanting to do too much and I want these guys to stay relaxed.

"When they come into the ballpark, I want them to feel comfortable in their element. There's no reason for us as coaches to put them in a state of panic. They're frustrated just as much as anybody else is and I think the most important thing is to help them step away from that frustration."

After bouncing back from a horrible start with runners in scoring position, the Cubs went back to their struggling ways on Wednesday, going 0-for-13 in those situations on their way to getting shutout in a double header. Overall on the season, the team is batting .195/.271/.292 with runners in scoring position.

"We're a club that has to continue to learn to tack on runs or put teams away offensively," Renteria said. "I think you learn those experiences sometimes through failure. You kind of take a step back, 'What was it that was going on? I got a little accelerated or wanted to do too much.' Next time you take a step back, we've seen it, we've experienced it, let's see if we can get you in a better frame of mind the next time you get out there in that particular situation and see if you can come through."

Of course, as Renteria pointed out, even the proper process can end in a poor result.

"There are no guarantees, you can have the best approach in the world," Renteria said. "You can square up a ball and have someone make a play. The reality is that the calmer they become in the box in key situations, the better off they'll be. It's incumbent on (the coaching staff) that they see the calm in us, because if they see the panic in us, then you have a bigger problem."

Staying calm, getting some consistent offensive production, particularly from the outfield, and just getting some balls to bounce their way would all help the Cubs turn things around with the bats. But the fact is, it's not just with runners on that the Cubs are struggling, they're hitting .230/.292/339 on the season and that's with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo having strong starts. This was an offense that many predicted to struggle and so far, they've lived down to expectations.