Feast-or-famine offense comes back to haunt Cubs in opening series

MIAMI -- It was an impressive offensive inning. Dynamic, in fact, as it combined execution with big hits. The only problem for Chicago Cubs fans was that it came from the Miami Marlins on Sunday -- not from one of the teams favored to go to the World Series this fall.

It all happened in the fifth, in a scoreless game, with the Marlins showing the Cubs how to get things done at the plate. A double by Cameron Maybin was followed by a get-me-over ground ball up the middle by Yadiel Rivera as Miami was just getting started.

Chad Wallach followed with an opposite-field base hit, plating the first run of the game. Then came a perfectly placed bunt by pitcher Dillon Peters. An intentional walk did nothing to help the visitors, as Derek Dietrich drove home a run with a single. Another walk followed by Brian Anderson's bases-clearing double sealed the game and a beautifully executed five-run inning.

“Of course I would like us to be able to,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said when asked of wanting to see his hitters replicate the Marlins’ execution. “We were unable to get those hits with runners in scoring position.”

Juxtaposed against the Cubs’ offensive chances just a couple innings earlier, the Marlins’ big inning looked even more impressive. In the third, a normally clutch hitter -- Anthony Rizzo -- popped up with a man on third and one out. One inning later, Javier Baez pushed a squeeze bunt too hard toward first base, allowing for an easy tag of Kyle Schwarber coming home from third. Of course, it didn’t help that Baez mistook a sign for the bunt -- Maddon wanted him to swing away.

The strange thing was that the Cubs scorched the ball all over the place -- except when a runner got to third base. That has been their kryptonite over the years, and this season is starting no differently. Coming into Sunday, they were 1-for-12 in getting a runner home from third with fewer than two outs. After they were shut out 6-0 in the finale of the four-game series, that number only got worse.

“We had good at-bats,” an optimistic Maddon said. “For zero points, you can't hit the ball any harder than we did today. That may have been the best 'hit' shutout I've ever seen.”

There’s the silver lining, at least. The goal of the game on offense is to hit the ball hard, and the Cubs did that. But they weren’t rewarded. According to Statcast, they were just 1-for-9 on balls hit in play with an exit velocity of 100 mph or more. That’s a combination of bad luck and good outfield defense by the Marlins.

“Don’t beat up on us,” Maddon implored. “Give them credit.”

The Marlins should get plenty of credit for taking their stripped-down team and splitting the opening series with Chicago. But the Cubs will be beaten up, nonetheless, for their lack of execution with runners on. (As well as the "missed" sign by Baez.)

“If there is a solution to that [stranding runners], I’d be open to opinions,” Rizzo said.

The Cubs’ lack of execution with a runner on third isn’t a first-four-games-of-the-season thing. It’s a two- or three-year issue, which was supposed to be fixed by a new hitting coach. Rizzo was quick to point out that no matter the Cubs’ ongoing problems in this area, they got to the NLCS last season. Undoubtedly, the Cubs will score a lot of runs, but the first series was a nod to last year, when they were all-or-nothing on offense. This weekend, their run totals were 8, 1, 10 and 0.

“It’s not easy facing pitchers you don’t see,” Rizzo said of the new-look Marlins. “Until you get into a flow of things, seeing all these new guys, it’s not easy.”

All the more reason to perhaps cut down on your swing and do whatever it takes to bring a runner home when he’s standing at third base. The Marlins showed the Cubs on Sunday how it can be done.

“It’s just one of those things,” Rizzo said. “History shows we don’t play well in Miami. We split. Move on from there. ... Overall, I thought the contact was good.”