'We haven't capitalized': Cubs realize something isn't right

PITTSBURGH -- On Monday afternoon, Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer sat in the visitors dugout and discussed his team's shopping list for this month's trade season: Offensive depth and lefty relievers would be nice additions. But after the Cubs lost 18-5 to the Pittsburgh Pirates, it wouldn't be quite so shocking if Tuesday's conversation were about selling instead of purchasing.

The Cubs are playing that poorly.

"We have to do better," veteran Daniel Descalso said after the loss. "We have to play better, in all facets. I don't think the product we put out on the field recently is indicative of the team we have in here, the talent we have in here."

Descalso was called upon to pitch the seventh inning Monday, even though the Cubs have a 14-man pitching staff. Their arms have been used a lot lately, leading to their first losing month since May 2017. After going 14-15 in June, they began July in much the same manner: playing bad baseball filled with mistakes.

Their manager is trying everything.

"You talk, talk, talk, and at some point, they just have to start getting it done," Joe Maddon said. "Those [mistakes] have been very glaring."

Overthrows, bobbled balls and outs on the basepaths have become the norm more than the exception lately. For once, the Cubs' lack of hitting with runners in scoring position wasn't an issue Monday simply because they got behind so early, as rookie Adbert Alzolay had his "welcome to the big leagues" moment in just his second career start. He gave up 10 hits in 2⅔ innings. Hitting, pitching and defense have all suffered lately, which made Hoyer's pregame determination about what the Cubs need even more telling.

"We haven't played well enough to rule a lot of things out," he said. "We have to keep an open mind because of the way the last couple months have gone."

Although it didn't matter on Monday, their biggest need is at the plate, where an uneven offense has kept Cubs brass up at night. It's strange because they boast three All-Stars in Javier Baez, Willson Contreras and Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are having respectable years as well.

"A lot of guys are where they need to be from an individual standpoint," Hoyer said. "From a team perspective, that's where the real frustration lies. We haven't capitalized on a lot of opportunities. It's too often the storyline."

Of course, Hoyer is talking about hitting with runners in scoring position. The Cubs rank 14th in the National League, which means those individual performances aren't being strung together. Can a team actually trade for that quality?

"As a group, I feel like we're a little less than the sum of our parts because of situational hitting," Hoyer said.

Perhaps it comes down to getting a legitimate leadoff man. In the past, that might have been a luxury for the Cubs, who boasted a deep lineup, but now it might be a necessity.

"We don't have that," Hoyer said. "We'll look for that. We've improvised a little bit with [Kyle] Schwarber there, which provides some danger at the top of the lineup."

As usual with teams, most of the fixes are going to have to come from within, from a group that won a World Series three years ago. That seems like a long time ago right now, as the Cubs are trending in the wrong direction. As for any scuffling team, perhaps the All-Star break can be the difference-maker -- and what occurs before the July 31 trade deadline. After all, the Cubs were the only team in the National League to play 29 games in June. Now, they have a handful left before a respite. A few wins wouldn't hurt.

"I'm sure everyone could use a break at this point," Descalso said. "[But] no one is going to sit there and feel sorry for us because we've been playing not so great.

"We can suck it up for five games, push to the break, relax for a few days and have our foot on the gas and come back for the second half."