Young Cubs offense shows its inexperience

CHICAGO -- Nobody said the young Chicago Cubs offense would not have its growing pains, and during a weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers those pains showed themselves.

The Cubs scored just five runs the entire weekend against the Brewers, but still managed to win one of the three games, thanks to the pitching of Jon Lester, whose ace ability emerged just in time to help his club to Friday’s 1-0 triumph. The Cubs had their biggest offensive output of the series Sunday, but still dropped a 5-3 decision.

Runs definitely were a rare commodity this weekend, as the Brewers seized upon a strategy that the baby Cubs were slow to adjust to.

“Their first pitcher [starter Jimmy Nelson], he’s not a very experienced dude, but you could see it in the end there with their bullpen guys that pitched really well against us,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But [Nelson] got better as the game progressed. From my perspective, I’ve been around this stuff before with young hitters like these, you just have to keep being patient, just give them the right information and keep them kind of loose actually. That’s the only way to do it.”

There is always a boom/bust cycle that comes with power hitters, especially young ones, which the Cubs have in spades. Young slugging phenom Kris Bryant has been productive in the first few weeks of his budding career, but he still is without a home run and already has Saturday’s four-strikeout game on his resume.

On Sunday, he rebounded with an RBI double in the fifth inning that snapped a mini three-game hitless skid. Jorge Soler, who had been struggling recently, suddenly looks more comfortable after having a heart-to-heart with Maddon. He delivered two hits Sunday, giving him a hit in each of his past three games.

The early part of the season not only is key for Cubs players to learn the National League, it also has given Maddon a chance to learn what buttons to push with his talented but young crew. So much of a hitter’s success is mental, and Maddon is learning what buttons he can push with what players.

“You can’t be uptight and hit on the major league level,” Maddon said after Sunday’s series defeat to a team that hadn’t won a series all season. “You have to go up there with a nice approach, and a plan, and we do. We have all that. It will come to fruition, it’s just one of those moments that some guys are struggling a bit right now, but it will come back to them.”

Minimal run support heightens pitching mistakes and, as a result, Cubs starter Jason Hammel was unable to make a difference despite a quality start, the 12th from a Cubs starter this season.

While his run support was low Sunday, he wasn’t complaining since the offense produced nine runs in his season-opening start April 11, and he got five runs of support April 17 to cover the four-spot he allowed, enabling him to escape with a no-decision.

“What we did in the last series against the Pirates was that we had some two-out knocks,” Hammel said. “We had chances today and we got a couple of them in, and left a few out there. It’s a matter of timely hits and we had some today but not enough.”

Hammel even tried to help the cause with a second-inning sacrifice fly, the first he has delivered in his career.

As far as the two-out RBIs go, the Cubs got two of them in the fifth inning, one on a triple to dead center field by Anthony Rizzo and another when Bryant followed with his double to shallow right.

Before the game, Bryant said he wasn’t worried that he had yet to hit a home run in the major leagues, and showed he learned a little after his four-strikeout game Saturday by going with a pitch and dropping it into right field.

“We’re all going to struggle at some point this season, but I trust my teammates that they can pick me up when I’m not doing well and I’ll pick them up when they’re not doing well, so that’s what a team is all about,” Bryant said. “I’m not here to put up crazy numbers or any of that stuff. I’m here to win and I feel like maybe at previous levels you’re trying to get here so you feel the pressure to put up big numbers, but here it’s all about winning and that’s what I’m all about too.”

If anything came from this weekend’s offensive struggles it is that a positive approach is alive and well.

“We did OK and had opportunities,” Maddon said. “Of course we’re not stringing it together. We’re not really driving the ball like we can. We’re definitely a team with more power than that and it will come. As these young hitters begin to understand what these pitchers are trying to do against them, and get their feet under them a little more, you’re going to see them all become more consistent with their power too.”

All was not a bust as Addison Russell’s first career home run was the difference in Friday’s narrow victory, and the youngster currently is riding a six-game hitting streak. The Cubs just need it from more than one source at any given time.

“In the meantime, I love their fight,” Maddon said. “We didn’t get it done [Sunday], but I’ll take the effort.”